Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ingmar and me.

Early on in my career I worked on Gorton's Fish products. Gorton wanted to trumpet the healthy side of eating fish. My partner and I came up with a concept based on the scene in Bergman's classic The Seventh Seal in which the protagonist plays chess with death. We had the bright idea to recreate the scene with a fish-stick playing death instead, and defeating it.

Somehow we sold the spot and we decided to contact Bergman to see if he'd be interested in directing it. We figured that was no more outlandish than Gorton's actually buying the spot. To our surprise, "Ing" (as he preferred to be called) said OK. He actually thought it was pretty funny.

Bergman had never shot a commercial before and he insisted on the first rough cut. When that came in at 128-minutes we realized we had a problem on our hands. "Ing" proved to be a nice guy, however, and once he understood what we meant by a "tir tee" he readily complied. The spot ran for over two years and picked up a host of awards in the European shows. We were shutout in the US, though. A bit too ethereal for the judges.

Adjö så länge, Ingmar. Goodbye, my friend. I shall miss you.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Two more things.

BusinessWeek has another winning article on the world of advertising, this time the top 100 brands in the world. Interestingly and sadly enough, not one of those brands is an advertising agency. So once again, the cobbler's children has no shoes.
And thing number two, I saw this at the border crossing between Canada and the US.

A world without advertising.

I just returned from one of the most isolated spots I've ever been. I was on Grand Manan Island, a lonely bit of land an hour-and-a-half by ferry from the nearest town--and that town, Black's Harbour, New Brunswick, Canada, had a population in the neighborhood of 1000, little more than the population of my apartment building in Manhattan.

In his new memoir, Peeling the Onion, Nobel Laureate Gunther Grass goes on a bit of a lamentation for Germany when it falls into the Western sphere of influence after WWII and again when East Germany re-unites with the West in the 1990s. Grass decries the gross consumerism and commercialism of the American way of life. I don't disagree with Grass completely. I detest our Manolo Blahnik, mall-obsessed culture. I'm sad that our national slogan is no longer E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, One) but, it seems, Shop Till You Drop, even in the middle of a crushing war and a Defense budget of over $500 Billion. However, the world without advertising and commercialism is a pretty bleak place, too. There are virtually no stores, no products in the few stores there are and just not a lot of things you want--because there's not a lot of cognizance of consumer desire. I'll stop this here before I become too much of an aesthete for ya. I guess I'll just sum up by saying, go ahead and be mercantile. Just don't be ugly about it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Dear Readers,

It is almost August, the time when therapists and Ad Aged doyens take a hiatus to recharge. I will be fly-fishing in a remote area of Patagonia and also attending to the medical needs of some of the people in the area. Finally my medical training put to good use.

I will return on July 30th. Tanned, fat and rested.

Friday, July 20, 2007

OK, now I'm pissed.

About fifteen years ago I was working for a vaunted creative shop. For whatever reason, some senior account executive invited in a rep from Starch, the commercial testing cabal, to instruct us on how to get a better Starch score.

Now, Ad Age, that quasi-journalistic bastion of the trite and insipid, the doyen of the anti-intuitive, is this week running an article reporting that the Dynamic Logic company has tips for us on online-brand-building. They even include a call-out box with the bold-face heading "The right ingredients for online ads." For those of you reading Ad Aged while in solitary confinement or stuck in a nearly forgotten gulag somewhere and who are dying for something to read, here is the link: http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=119276
But as the sign said on the way to the witch's fortress in The Wizard of Oz, "I'd turn back if I were you."

The reason I'm outraged about crap like Dynamic Logic is that it will be latched onto by so many purported marketing people. Rules will emerge. Do's and don't's. All of which, I suppose are ok if they do not devolve into absolutism. But you and I both know they will. Clients and internal reviews will be at the mercy of check-lists. In time, except for the talented-tenth of agencies, innovation will be stymied and be replaced by karaoke creative. Formulaic blather. Lack of experimentation.

The key to success in virtually any endeavor is the willingness to fail. I could, but I won't, insert a sports metaphor here.

OK, back to the anecdote I opened with. A famous creative director who later opened his own NY agency which later became a gigantic worldwide company, sat through the Starch meeting. He immediately revised a board he had sold to open with the ringing of a telephone--because according to Starch, such a device would boost a score. The ringing had nothing at all to do with the spot. As Adolph Eichmann said, he was only following orders.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rainer Maria Rilke on Advertising.

I'm lucky enough to have some very smart--even profound--friends. This morning I had a conversation about many things with the profoundest of all.

All of a sudden and from absolutely out of the blue, he trotted out a reference Rilke,
the great late 19th/early 20th century poet and writer. Rilke, even at his most obtuse, probably
has more to say than your GCD or even ECD, so I re-read some excerpts of his "Letters to a Young Poet." I've pasted it here so you can all shake your heads and wonder how I actually managed to reference Rilke in my blog.

"People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A thought on Grace.

Roy Grace, that is. Formerly of DDB and of Grace & Rothschild. Responsible for so many great ads and spots. Someone once asked him what he did as a creative director. Grace replied:

"I take out the garbage."

Grace meant, I think, that he eliminates work from the mix that isn't good enough. And he removes the extraneous crap that somehow always seems to get shoe-horned into work. I'm no Roy Grace, but I often disparage ads by saying "they're a negotiation, not a communication." That is, along the way different constituencies argued for and got their way and stuck in their idea. The end result is a rat's breakfast. And that's something no one wants to look at.

Words and pictures together.

Errol Morris, the Academy Award winning Director of The Fog of War and the director of the brilliantly simple Apple "Switchers" commercials, has a blog on The New York Times select.

Here is the opening of his my recent post and the url for it. However, if you're such an anti-intellectual cheapskate that you don't subscribe to the Times online, send me a note via AdAged and, against my better judgment, I will email you back a copy.


Pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words. But a picture unaccompanied by words may not mean anything at all. Do pictures provide evidence? And if so, evidence of what? And, of course, the underlying question: do they tell the truth?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

People either hate creatives or don't understand them. Or both.

I am looking for a job, so every once in a while I succumb to the siren song of online job sites and submit an application. I responded to one today for an Executive Creative Director job and got a reply back with this text in the subject line.

RE: Executive Creative Director (EXECCREATE)

Now is it just me, or does the word in parens look like the word execrate, that is, to declare something hateful or abhorrent. To loathe something.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Do you like me?

Watching TV, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, spending time online, of course we are inundated with messages. What follows is obvious, but, it seems, lost to so many marketers out there. People are loathe to buy a product or service from a company or person they loathe. That being said, it's fairly striking how few ads are actually likable. In fact, the 2007 Cone Cause Evolution Survey claims that two-thirds of American's consider a company's business practices when deciding what to by. (As reported in Advertising Age.)

I'd go a step further and say this: how you portray yourself in an ad is also a business practice. That is, if you're crass and ugly, manipulative and deceptive, people will be less apt to like you and therefore less apt to buy your product. OK. We all know what happens next. Unlikable ads stop performing so the client and agency panic and say something like, "we have to dial up the responsiveness." In so doing they make the ads even less likable. And in short order, someone's head gets lopped off.

Ads are, often, representational stand-ins for people. You don't buy from unlikable people. Why would you buy from an unlikable ad?

The digital age.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Call for entries.

Fees are $10 before August 1, 2007 and $15 thereafter. Make checks payable to Ad Aged. And good luck!

Metaphorical hats-off to Goodby.

In what seems like no time at all, Goodby, Silverstein and Partners have made the Sprint brand seem cool, fresh and alive. Work like the ad featured to the left is the apotheosis of "retail" advertising, or "demand generation" advertising. Goodby hasn't resorted to starbursts, screaming prices, exclamation points, store locations, etc. etc. to drive sales, instead, they've created a campaign that's so cool I actually crave what they have to sell.

Let's face it, with the exception of the iPhone or some other phone-nomenon, all the carriers basically offer the same phones at the same price and the same calling plans. Most often the carriers' stores are even in the same locations. So what makes you choose one carrier or phone over another, i.e. what "drives response" is smart work.

Maybe I'm just a child of the 60s, but "Music so fast it's trippy" motivates me a heckuva lot more than "America's most reliable voice and data network."

When to fire your Ad Agency.

I just came across this article in BusinessWeek written by Steve McKee the president of a semi-eponymous agency, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

From the way it starts, you can tell it's worth reading.
"As a client, you're paying your agency to push you to keep your brand relevant in a shifting competitive landscape, not to simply take orders"


George and George Bernard Shaw.

A number of Ad Aged's regular readers have commented on the somewhat angry tone of my posts. That brings to mind something my namesake Shaw said to me one damp and musty morning as he was bouncing me on his bony (and by this time, very ancient) knee "George," he growled with his Irish brogue, "the power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." With those words, the old man let out a rattle and left us for another, perhaps better, world.

If my posts sound angry, it's because we SHOULD be angry. Most big agencies have burrowed their heads in the sand as they wait for the 1980s and the three network hegemon to return. Interactive agencies are designing the crap out of things, but, more often than not, forgetting the value of production values--using, say, an in-house account guy as VO on a web movie, forgetting about thought-leadership entirely and choosing to be a channel-executer instead, and most clients spend their days covering their not-inconsiderable client arses and foisting yet another, at best, invisible ad on the millions of 'ad-ignorers' out there.

Further, the entire marketing world has a semantic virus that often excuses god-awful off-brand work with phrases like, "well, it's not a brand ad, it's supposed to drive sales."

OK. I am angry. If you're not, your dosage is too high.

P.S. There is also a rampant pusillanimity in blogs because of anonymity. Well, I'm not anonymous. Send me a comment with your phone number and I (not someone among my burgeoning staff) will call you to discuss things. There's nothing I'd like more here than a heated debate.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

When it's hot in New York...

When it's steamy out, I often think of a poem by Ogden Nash.

A bit of talcum
Is always walcum.

Introducing a new word.

Right now I'm freelancing with my terrific art director at an agency that's called us in to work on an "exploratory." Here's what happens next, every time we do something that doesn't look like or sound like what they've been doing for years, we get castigated. In other words, it's an exploratory but we should only explore the vast expanse that exists between the ever-so-tightly kerned letters A and B.

This isn't an exploratory. It's a conformatory.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This picture goes with the post below.


Advertising Age (the original Ad Aged in that their coverage of un-mass media is esoteric and woeful) has an article in this week's edition "CMOs rapped for having zero impact on sales." http://www.adage.com/cmostrategy/article?article_id=119071

The study cited in the article is by two academics--professors of marketing--and I never believe academic articles about marketing because marketing ain't academic. What's more, did these guys ever sell a product (other than themselves) write an ad or create an insightful strategy? However, I do agree with the authors' conclusions.

Most professional marketers are, in reality, professional bet-hedgers. They fuck-us group everything. They avoid taking a stand. They seek consensus and amity rather that impact. It's safer. Most often they buy work that looks, sounds and feels like someone else's. The irony here, of course, is that by playing it safe--buying safe ads--CMOs apparently are endangering their own jobs.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Lies, damn lies and marketing.

OK, the correct quotation (by either Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli) is: There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. But apropos of marketing perhaps the quotation should be re-written as: There are lies, damn lies and lies that fuck up your brand and drive customers away like a fart in a sleeping bag.

On Saturday I had to add minutes to my daughter's AT&T phone card. Somehow adding $20 to a card cost me $25. Why? Taxes for one. And two, something AT&T calls a "re-charge fee."

So I called AT&T and talked to a supervisor.

ME: What's a re-charge fee?
AT&T: A charge for putting money on your phone card.
ME: So you charge me to spend my money?
AT&T: It's a charge to put money on your phone card.
ME: That's like a store charging me to shop there.
AT&T: We can give you address and you can write a letter.

Someday someone will provide an alternative to this kind of shoddy corporate management. I can't wait.

Friday, July 6, 2007

When advertising tried harder.


Yeah, yeah, I know it goeth before a Fall. But when I got off the subway at 42nd Street the other day and saw this beautiful relief housing a simple sign, it made me think of another sort of pride. Pride in your work and your craft. So much of what is produced online today is absolute crap. Yes, a lot of the people doing the work have great illustration skills, but that does not make them great illustrators. I took the photo above, but I am no photographer and wish it were better.

The point is, production values matter. They communicate how much a company cares about its work and its products.

PS. You can see this sign when you exit or enter the 4,5,6 trains from what used to be the old Bowery Savings Bank building. It is now a Cipriani's restaurant. O tempore, o mores!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Calcified. Ossified. Dumb.

David Pogue, technology writer for the NY Times
has just returned cellular industry conference.
You don't have to be a Svengali to guess he
bemoans the lack of innovation among
American carriers.

Here's a bit from his post that I really enjoyed:

"P.S. ... As longtime Pogue's Posts readers know, my biggest
cellular pet peeve is the endless recording you hear when you
reach someone's voicemail: "To page this person, press 2 now.
You may leave a message at the tone. When you finish
recording, you may hang up. Or press 5 for more options"- and
so on.

At the conference, I asked one cellular executive if that
message is deliberately recorded slowly and with as many
words as possible, to eat up your airtime and make more ARPU
for the cell carrier. I was half kidding - but he wasn't
fooling around in his reply: "Yes."

Whip it out.

The next time a client asks you to do something crass, ugly or hyperbolic, whip out this slide show appended to a BusinessWeek article I just happened upon. Here's the link to the article:

And a link to the slide-show.

The article is called What Price Reputation? In a nutshell it claims Advertising can boost a company's reputation (especially if the company concerned backs things up with deeds) and thus its stock price. For instance, if Wal-Mart had the reputation of Target, it's stock value would rise an estimated 4.9%, boosting its value by nearly $10 billion. That's a lot of simoleans. At Ogilvy some years back, the Agency was quick to trumpet the $50 Billion increase in IBM's market cap as the result of the brand's resurrected reputation. This makes sense to me. A sandwich shop you like can charge fifty cents more for that corned-beef on rye and get away with it. (See Starbucks.)

Companies that force you do crappy work because "that will drive sales," are once again, sacrificing real value for specious short-term gains. Don't let a client screw itself in the temporal pursuit of marketing mammon.

Whip it out and fight.

Advertising is maggots feeding on the rotting corpse of Capitalism.

I don't really believe that quotation but as a headline it is a stopper. Thanks to Karl Marx, a reader from Trier, Germany for providing it. More later if I have something to say.

And keep those cards and letters coming folks.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

I don't know if this is real or not.

But it appears real. It is an email forwarded to me by a friend with a long cc-list of real names and an e-signature with a real name and title. Real or not, it has that whole verisimilitude thing going and is therefore, worth reading.

Dear Co-Workers and Managers,

As many of you probably know, today is my last day. But before I leave, I
wanted to take this opportunity to let you know what a great and distinct
pleasure it has been to type "Today is my last day."

For nearly as long as I've worked here, I've hoped that I might one day
leave this company. And now that this dream has become a reality, please
know that I could not have reached this goal without your unending lack of
support. Words cannot express my gratitude for the words of gratitude you
did not express.

I would especially like to thank all of my managers both past and present
but with the exception of the wonderful Saroj Hariprashad: in an age where
miscommunication is all too common, you consistently impressed and inspired
me with the sheer magnitude of your misinformation, ignorance and
intolerance for true talent.
It takes a strong man to admit his mistake - it
takes a stronger man to attribute his mistake to me.

Over the past seven years, you have taught me more than I could ever ask for
and, in most cases, ever did ask for. I have been fortunate enough to work
with some absolutely interchangeable supervisors on a wide variety of
seemingly identical projects - an invaluable lesson in overcoming daily
tedium in overcoming daily tedium in overcoming daily tedium.

Your demands were high and your patience short, but I take great solace
knowing that my work was, as stated on my annual review, "meets
expectation." That is the type of praise that sends a man home happy after a
10 hour day, smiling his way through half a bottle of meets expectation
scotch with a meets expectation cigar. Thanks Trish!

And to most of my peers: even though we barely acknowledged each other
within these office walls, I hope that in the future, should we pass on the
street, you will regard me the same way as I regard you: sans eye contact.

But to those few souls with whom I've actually interacted, here are my
personalized notes of farewell:

To Philip Cress, I will not miss hearing you cry over absolutely nothing
while laying blame on me and my coworkers. Your racial comments about Joe
Cobbinah were truly offensive and I hope that one day you might gain the
strength to apologize to him.

To Brenda Ashby whom is long gone, I hope you find a manager that treats you
as poorly as you have treated us. I worked harder for you then any manager
in my career and I regret every ounce of it. Watching you take credit for my
work was truly demoralizing.

To Sylvia Keenan, you should learn how to keep your mouth shut sweet heart.
Bad mouthing the innocent is a negative thing, especially when your talking
about someone who knows your disgusting secrets. ; )

To Bob Malvin (Mr. Cronyism Jr), well, I wish you had more of a back bone.
You threw me to the wolves with that witch Brenda and I learned all too much
from it. I still can't believe that after following your instructions, I
ended up getting written up, wow. Thanks for the experience buddy, lesson

Don Merritt (Mr. Cronyism Sr), I'm happy that you were let go in the same
manner that you have handed down to my dedicated coworkers. Hearing you on
the phone last year brag about how great bonuses were going to be for you
fellas in upper management because all of the lay offs made me nearly vomit.
I never expected to see management benefit financially from the suffering of
scores of people but then again, with this company's rooted history in the
slave trade it only makes sense.

To all of the executives of this company, Jamie Dimon and such. Despite
working through countless managers that practiced unethical behavior,
racism, sexism, jealousy and cronyism, I have benefited tremendously by
working here and I truly thank you for that. There was once a time where
hard work was rewarded and acknowledged, it's a pity that all of our
positive output now falls on deaf ears and passes blind eyes. My advice for
you is to place yourself closer to the pulse of this company and enjoy the
effort and dedication of us "faceless little people" more. There are many
great people that are being over worked and mistreated but yet are still
loyal not to those who abuse them but to the greater mission of providing
excellent customer support. Find them and embrace them as they will help
battle the cancerous plague that is ravishing the moral of this company.

So, in parting, if I could pass on any word of advice to the lower salary
recipient ("because it's good for the company") in India or Tampa who will
soon be filling my position, it would be to cherish this experience because
a job opportunity like this comes along only once in a lifetime.

Meaning: if I had to work here again in this lifetime, I would sooner kill

To those who I have held a great relationship with, I will miss being your
co-worker and will cherish our history together. Please don't bother
responding as at this very moment I am most likely in my car doing 85 with
the windows down listening to Biggie.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A clarification.

There's a reason I am so punctilious about language and lying. Lying leads to dying.

Here in America, a lid has been kept on the outrage over the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. One way that lid has been kept on is that our captive press reports only American deaths--running about 3,500 as I type. Most people, I think, say, '3,500. That's not so many.' And they swill another brewski and ogle another Britney story. However, if we honestly reported (ie told the truth) about our invasions, the death count would total nearly 700,000 (oddly, I consider Iraqis and Afghanis people, too, and therefore worthy of a death count.) Reporting that nearly three-quarters of a million Iraqis have died since we invaded their sovereign country on a pretext, or 1/30th of their country--equivalent to seven million American deaths, begins to put the power of language and lies into context. (You can read more about carnage and language here:) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/10/AR2006101001442.html

Do your part. Speak the truth when you create work. And demand it of others.

Politics as usual.

President Bush's commutation of Irv Lewis Libby, Jr.'s sentence should remind all of us communicators out in blogmerica of the power (and the necessity) of words--precise and exacting words. When you write something for a client please stick to pure English not political Orwellian New Speak. Man, his sentence wasn't commuted--he got a 'get out of jail free' card.
I believe that most children and some adults can see through or read through linguistic advertising lies and caveats. So avoid them like the plague.

Now, if you're one of the thousands of avid readers of Ad Aged, you know I am keenly interested in the abuse of language for nefarious purposes, including duping the public to buy your product. If you are too, pick up Viktor Klemperer's Lingua Tertii Imperii. That's Latin for The Language of the Third Reich. In his diary, Klemperer (a distant relative of Colonel Klink) bears witness to the degeneration of language under a dictatorship. As a Jew who survived first the Nazi fascists and then the Soviet fascists, his chilling account knows whereof it speaks. You can find it on Amazon or a good bookstore, if there are any left.

Monday, July 2, 2007

De-foresting phone trees.

Just now, I came across this article in Advertising Age. It's about a company called Bringo that will machete through phone trees for you. Check it out at www.nophonetrees.com

That's an idea I wish I had had.

If advertisers acted like politicians.

This morning the news world was abuzz with the news that Barack Obama raised over $30 million in the quarter just ended. And that John McCain is letting people go and cutting salaries because he's "behind in the money race."

You see similar tallies when the press talks about new movies too. Such and such did only a disappointing $4 million at the box office. Or some other movie set a box office record.

This is a lamentable trend. What it Chevy promoted itself by saying "America's most heavily advertised car brand?" There's no reason why there for me. Chevy isn't credible because they're profligate any more than Barack Obama is viable because he's charismatic.

I have nothing against Barack Obama. My issue is I'm a fairly well-read guy and I know nothing about his policies, his vision, his soul. I just know he raised $30+ million. I suppose this is life in our Trump-ocracy.