Sunday, September 30, 2007

Look what they've done to my song, Ma.

Look what they've done to my brain, ma
Look what they've done to my brain
Well they picked it like a chicken bone
And I think I'm half insane, ma
Look what they've done to my song.

I wish I could find a good book to live in
Wish I could find a good book
Well if I could find a real good book
I'd never have to come out and look
Look what they've done to my song.

Ok, this is going to discursive at its best, with connections and leaps aplenty, so fasten your seatbelts and hold on tight.

I am not a sports fan. Perhaps the only male in America who isn't. This time of year, when baseball starts its month-long crescendo, I wonder why. Today, I believe, I figured it out. The brand that sports used to maintain (its immaterial whether or not this brand was based on mythology or not) lied to me. Maybe they started lying when baseball went on strike and because of circumstances, the team with the best record in the majors that year didn't even make the playoffs. Maybe I'd been lied to too often when I discovered that the greatest player of my generation bet on his team to lose. Maybe I finally had too much when what had been sold to me as a contest of athleticism and level-playing fields became one of amphetamines, steroids, god-knows what else and rapacious owners who flouted their wealth in order to acquire "winning," as if winning is something that can be bought, like virtue and integrity and courage.

Whatever, call me deluded, I feel today that the sports brands have lied to me. And as I don't wish to associate with liars, I no longer associate with sports--especially big-time college athletics which is the biggest sporting lie we have.

But there is a larger point to leap into, and leap I must. What about Brand America? Has it broken so many promises to the world that a change in administration cannot heal it? Admittedly, despite the greatest income disparity in our history, I will concede that there is an economic pull that draws people to this country. But what about the mythic side to the American brand? Has that been destroyed completely? I am not anti-American, I am attempting to look at this with dispassion, but hearing Robert Mugabe undress Bush and America in front of the UN, and agreeing with him is quite disturbing.

In today's NYTimes (have you heard of it?) Thomas Friedman re-writes a bit of Emma Lazurus: “Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints.”

We've undone Habeas Corpus and the sanctity of human rights. We've destroyed the ozone layer. We've invaded countries and used uranium depleted weapons to kill them and their earth. We've tortured and ignored international law. Is this America? Are these behaviors on brand?

The deeper point here is that I am not trying to be political. I am trying to discuss America the brand and what is on-brand and what is off-brand behavior. Naturally, no brand is always on brand. As we've noted in the blog, even Apple stumbles. America is no different, I suppose. What remains to be seen is if any of those midgets running for president can say, "we've erred. And my job over the next four years is to fix our brand." Just before he was killed Lincoln called America "the last, best hope for Earth." Maybe I believed in that like I used to believe in the beauty and truth of Sports and Mickey Mantle's muscles. Maybe my belief in the verity of Lincoln's line is nothing more than the delusion of an infatuate. I hope not. I'd like this brand to come back.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day 1068.

Since Malcolm Gladwell published The Tipping Point, I have gone one-thousand sixty-eight days without using that term.


That figure above is the one-hundred-and-ninety billion dollars that defense secretary Gates has said we need to continue fighting in Iraq. I suppose, though no one says, this is over and above the $600 billion we already spend on offense, er, defense. (By the way, the plan to give health insurance to America's children, which would cost $7 billion and be paid for by higher tobacco taxes, has been rejected by the Bush Wehrmacht as being "too expensive.")

I have a mathematical mind and a good head for numbers. Iraq has a population of 20 million. So spending $190 billion there could translate into giving each man, woman and child in Iraq $9500. $38,000 for a family of four. Free and clear. No taxes.

Here's what I think we ought to do. Allot half that money to consumer goods and give each Iraqi a 96" flat screen, an iPod, and half a dozen Prada accoutrements. Then with the other half of the money, rebuild their infrastructure and beam in the mindless televised crap (complete with pharma commercials) that is the opiate of our populace and keeps our outrage confined to issues as seminal as Britney's body fat, Janet Jackson's nipple, and John Edwards' haircut. Also, we could invite drug cartels in to further anesthetize the people. After all, the Mexican drug cartels alone do a combined $23 billion in sales here, which must keep more than a few potential trouble-makers nodding off rather than rabble-rousing.

I'm serious.

This makes sense to me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another new word.

This one I didn't make up. It was revealed to me by the ex-boss I referred to in my previous post. Apparently someone showed him storyboards he didn't like. His response to the work was "It's not fun and it's not funny. It's unny."

That's funny.

I've just created a new word.

When something is stupid or utterly foolish, you can call it asinine. But what about when something is beyond stupid and beyond utterly foolish? Like agencies that refuse to adapt (sometimes you can't keep the dinosaurs from the tar-pits, my favorite ex-boss once said to me about a client.) Or what about agencies that refuse to grow-up and thus never make the transition from pleasing clients to leading clients?

Or what about our daily dosage of dumbness dispensed by companies that seem to do all they can to drive you away dissatisfied? (See General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, the airlines, the telcos, movie theatres, supermarkets, mass-transit systems, mattress manufacturers and retailers, television networks, computer manufacturers, big-box retailers, avaricious employers, for example.)

What do you call them when the word asinine isn't strong enough?


I hate them both.

The president of Iran, who got his PhD. in traffic management, spoke on Monday at my almer mata, Columbia University. And yesterday the president of the US, who has a PhD. in lies and deceit spoke at the United Nations. I hate to say this but I think I dislike Bush more than Ahmadinejad.

First off, Bush runs a country that spends more than the rest of the world combined on military armaments, while nearly 1/6 of its citizens have no health care. Second, he has eviscerated civil liberties in the name of preserving our liberty. Third, he is a global warming denier. Fourth, I could go on and on and on.

Ahmadinejad is despicable. And a holocaust denier. An alleged exporter of "terror." But compared to our ConnecticutTexan and great Satan, he is small potatoes.

After all, our government exported terror by invading at least two sovereign states on a pretext. Now it comes to light that Blackwater sets traps for Iraqis and then shoots them when they're snagged. We also execute more people, mostly dark and poor, than Iraq. More on a per capita basis too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ad Aged for sale.

Microsoft bought an agency recently. Google and Yahoo! are rumored to be buying whole networks, so I guess it should come as no surprise that I recently ran a classified ad in the Agency Pennysaver hawking Ad Aged. With Digitas having been sold for $1.3 billion, I figured I'm worth triple that. After all, I have ideas, integrity and I speak English, not a bullshit jargon bizspeak buzzword platitude patois argot crapola.

Now, a sentence or four on being bought.

It doesn't make a thimble's-full of difference who you're owned by if you don't have ideas. Holding companies don't influence consumer behavior, ideas do. Yes, holding companies can be sources of financing, can help with contacts and backroom deals. But without ideas, it's all a crock.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mission statements and dumbness.

The New York Times had a good article in it's business section yesterday on the ubiquity of mission statements and how they are infected with "bizspeak and bromides."

In creating this synthesized blather, companies engage in much of what is wrong with companies today. Mission statements, after all, become "an important team-building experience"...they're created by a "broad cross-section of people [who] would jointly write a statement both specific and lofty and then seek feedback from other employees."

Ack ack ack ack ack.

That's all for me right now. I have to start activating Ad Aged's mission statement which is: We are committed to continually restore principle-centered content to proactively disabuse the prevailing paradigms of corporate manifestations."


Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Siberian Dilemma.

< I just read Kurt Campbell's blog in the NY Times and in it he talks about something called the Siberian Dilemma. Here's how Campbell describes that dilemma:
"The fishermen of northernmost Russia go out onto the frozen lakes of Siberia in temperatures at times approaching 60 degrees below zero centigrade to fill their catch. They know from experience that the biggest fish congregate at the center of lakes where the ice is the thinnest. They slowly make their way out across the ice listening carefully for the telltale signs of cracking. If a fisherman is unlucky enough to fall through the ice into the freezing water, he is confronted immediately with what is known as the Siberian dilemma. If he pulls himself out of the water onto the ice, his body will freeze immediately in the atmosphere and the fisherman will die of shock. If, however, he chooses to take his chances in the water, the fisherman will inevitably perish of hypothermia. Such is the stark choice presented by the Siberian dilemma."

Somehow, and I'm not exactly sure how, the Siberian Dilemma reminds me of the plight so many agencies face today. Do they stay in the hypothermic water of the status quo, or do they pull themselves out and perhaps die of shock. This is not to say that agencies today face only a Hobson's choice--but most agencies today seem not to make any choices at all, that is they are letting the future happen to them rather than inventing it. And that is a sure way of either dieing of shock or freezing to death.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Is "blogging" new?

Yes and no. Posting things online for the world to read is new, ie. the delivery system is new, but as a form, blogs are really "feuilletons."

This confirms Ad Aged's thesis that the principles of good communication haven't changed since we became Erectus, only delivery technology has.

I was introduced to the word feuilleton when I read Joseph Roth's great book, "What I Saw," about his life in Weimar Germany. He described it this way:

A feuilleton is best described by what it isn't. It isn't news. It isn't the metro report. The opposite of an editorial, a feuilleton is descriptive, philosophical, meandering and poetically inclined. Though the word is French, the form reached its apogee in fin-de-si├Ęcle Vienna. An early master, Alfred Polgar, said, ''Life is too short for literature, too transitory for lingering description . . . too psychopathic for psychology, too fictitious for novels.''

"You're acting white."

Yesterday the Reverend Jesse Jackson accused Barack Obama of "acting white." Jackson's statement is one of the most racist I've heard in some time. Do all white people act alike? And what is acting white? Does it mean that if you're white you have a certain antipathy for other colors? Moreover, when will people be allowed to say, "You're acting Arab." "You're acting Jewish." "You're acting Eye-talian." And how far is that from simply cursing, "Whitey." "Arab." "Jew." "Dago." "Nigger."

Jackson, who once supported the virulent racist Louis Farrakhan and who once referred to New York City as "Hymie-town," has once again shown himself to be a racist. The fact that no one has even noticed Jackson's slur means that we have failed to pay attention to language and how the ill-intentioned can use it perniciously.

More on the demise of agencies.

If you were to look at an atlas from one hundred years ago when the Hapsburg Monarchy broke up, or even from fifty years ago when the British Empire collapsed, or even from 1989 when the Soviet Union broke up, national names and boundaries would look very different from how they appear today. Similar tectonic shifts are happening in the world of advertising for much the same reason: nations, oligarchies, realms like agencies lose their relevance and meaning. For nations that means people can't come together around a common goal or symbol. For agencies it means their offering no longer speaks to how consumers wish to be communicated with.

In the last couple of years, we've seen Lowe's billings almost literally decimated. Same with Fallon. And perhaps to a lesser degree the same is true with many of the large agencies at the top-most reaches of the big agency pantheon--the large old-line shops.

Many of these agencies have as their leaders people who have yet to embrace what people quaintly refer to as new media. Their fame, their ascent to the advertising stratosphere rested on a great commercial or print ad they did a couple of decades ago. Now, when they're in a crunch they go back to that very bag of tricks to solve their issues. In other words they try to stave off obsolescence via obsolescent behavior.

There's a logic leap coming, but I can't help but think of Henry Ford's famous quote, "If I asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse." Though Ford should hardly be regarded as a bastion of progressive management, I trust you'll get the point.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Midas Touch. (Everything they touch turns into a muffler.)

Lowe, here in New York, has just lost the Saab account. Earlier this year they lost the GMC account. As Gertrude Stein might have said, as of this moment "there's not a lot of there there."

A reminder, Lowe has been an IPG catch-basin for a lot of agencies. I joined Lowe when it was called Marschalk. They then merged with Scali. Then they merged with Ammirati, which had previously merged with SSCB, which had previously merged with Bozell, which had previously merged with Kenyon & Eckhardt. In other words, what had once been probably close to $1.5 billion in billings is now virtually no more.

I used to kiss off the demise of agencies as part of the push for global efficiency. Because starting 20 years ago, it was the mid-sized shops that closed.

But now, it's clear as the ice in a dry martini, that the old order is crumbling. And the ash and residue ain't pretty.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Some thoughts on listening to Creative Directors, Account People, Clients and Research.

In "The Captive Mind", Czeslaw Milosz's memoir/essay/study about artists and intellectuals living under Communism in the early 1950s, he attributed the epigram below to an ancient Jew from Galacia. Makes sense doesn't it?

"When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal."

A meteoric rise.

We've all heard about the meteoric rise of so-and-so. A second baseman for the Twins. A rockstar. A politician. A business 2.0 leader or a colleague.

Well, I want to point something out that the great Hungarian-born historian John Lukacs noted in one of his books.
Meteors don't rise, they fall.

My point today, since I'm very busy, is quite simple. Language is fragile. Choose your words and visual words (images) carefully lest you mislead. If we don't watch what we do and say, we'll end up in a country where our leaders call gas-chambers "showers."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If you have an erection for more than 4 hours.

I'm on the cusp of doing some freelance work for a brand in a category I've never spent much time thinking about. For me, it goes this way when I get an assignment: I think about it fairly obsessively, I run through ideas in my head, I create scenarios, start writing commercials, etc.

Then it came to me. I have the answer, the magic bullet, the way to breakthrough, build a brand, get response no matter what the product or service you're working on. "If eating Cheerios (part of this complete breakfast) gives you an erection for more than four hours, see your doctor." "If your bluetooth enabled Dell laptop gives you an erection for more than four hours, see your doctor."

With the promise of a four-hour erection, advertising isn't that hard.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What is print?

To most people running agencies, to most CMOs, to the heads of most media companies, the media world has always been composed of a trinity. That is, there is print, radio and television. Until recently each of those media has always had a specific role. Generally speaking, television was always the awareness media. Consideration and response was always given over to print. In fact, if you look at, say, the One Show Annual from 20 years ago, the big print winners were ads with copy--maybe even a couple hundred words of copy, like the ads that really built the BMW brand.

Then came the internet. To people who weren't watching, all of a sudden there was a new place to get information. A new consideration and response medium. So what happened was this: Print became posterized. Look at the Cannes winners over the last few years. There's hardly a word to be seen. So print quickly became a visual media. The only problem for print was that both TV and the internet have this thing Kevin Roberts of Saatchi calls Sisomo--sight, sound and motion. And--look at porn as one example--people would rather see moving pictures of moaning wimmen than still photos of the same.

What's more, print, except for newspaper ads, became slow. It took a long time to produce. In the ASAP-era, it lost its newsworthiness. Even in newspaper ads which should capitalize on the media's "dailiness," because of bureaucratic client organizations and slow-moving agencies, approvals are a long time coming and so relevance suffers.

So, what is the role of print when you can get cooler pictures and more words elsewhere? Print is tactile, you can hold it. Print can put a complete thought in one place--it won't disappear a frame or a pixel later. Likewise, print has the unique capability of presenting iconic words or images. The Absolut Vodka could not have worked anywhere but print. Finally, print, because of its bookish lineage, has an air of authority the internet and television don't.

These are my thoughts on something I've been worrying about. I would love yours.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's all explained by Bertolt Brecht.

Now it seems that we will be in Iraq for at least a few more years, regardless of who wins the Presidential election in 2008. And who knows how long we will be in Iran when we decide to go there later this year (that's a prediction.) In any event, Bertolt Brecht looms large in my cerebral cortex.

Brecht who escaped Germany some 75 years ago, wrote a play called Mother Courage while in exile. It was nominally about the Thirty Years War but was really about war's larger evil. There's one line in Mother Courage that is all there is to know, and all ye need to know:

"Peace is a waste of equipment."

You can't spend trillions year after year on weapons and not use them. A practice field is to a football team what Iraq is to our military. It's a place to work on new plays.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The :30 isn't dead but it may be wrong.

I have fairly quick processing powers and an acute ability to take in a lot of information quickly. Lately however, maybe because I'm always doing a couple of other things when I'm watching TV, I feel that I get nothing out of a mere :30.

Is it possible that the internet has actually expanded our attention span? That because it provides so much information, we now want more in a single serving when we're media browsing. Every time I see a car commercial, I'm left saying to myself "so what." Same with the new IBM campaign, "Start Doing," or the current Microsoft campaign, "People Ready." Especially true with the Amex Tina Fey spot. Or the HP Gwen Stefani spot. Funny and engaging, but who cares?

I believe in the long-term viability of TV. (I just found these numbers in Forbes: 79% of all consumers discuss their favorite TV shows with friends, family and colleagues, compared with just 38% that discuss favorite Web sites.)

TV isn't wrong. But maybe :30 is the wrong time-unit. Maybe it's not the media, it's the length of the message. I know there are cost implications involved in this line of thinking. But, gee whiz, if I were spending hundreds of millions on TV, damn, I'd try something different. What's more, my guess would be that the networks would be willing to play ball with the advertisers if they thought it would cause a resurgence in the effectiveness of their medium.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Re-elect George Bush.

Let's get this whole carbon-based lifeforms thing over with in a hurry. Why prolong the human race until we are wiped out by rising sea levels, reduced to Malthusian depravity (no health-care, no housing standards, no safe food, no livable minimum wage) or destroyed by a nuclear cataclysm. Give Bush or one of his acolytes four more years and that will be that.

Did you know:
  • Halliburton is doing profitable business in Iran. (Isn't Iran in the "Axis of Evil"? I guess doing business with Iran is not that different than Walker's great-grandfather doing business with the Nazis.)
  • The ultra-right-wing Hunt family is earning money in Iraq, illegally selling Kurdish oil.
  • George Walker Bush seeks to increase pollution levels in "clean areas of the country." I guess just to even things out.
  • Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, former head of the EPA (there's a rocky marriage for ya) and the one who assured us the air at Ground Zero was safe, is related by marriage to George Walker Bush--let's keep asbestos exposure in the family.
Of course all this is only the tip of the iceberg. And all this is covered up by an Orwellian coating of lies, deceit and obfuscation.

Why prolong things? Let's vote Bush again, and get it over with.

See you in hell.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Branding devices.

One reason I have such disdain for Telco advertising in general and in AT&T's in particular is that I think they use the words "brand" and "branding" all wrong. AT&T calls their stylized globe, their orange color and their logo "branding" or even their "brand." No. What those things are are "branding devices."

Branding and brands are based on how companies act and perform--how they treat you. Branding devices like the Macintosh Apple or the Nike swoosh are good because they are devices that help consumers recall the aspects of brands they admire. The Verizon check-mark rune does nothing more than remind us of how much we hate Verizon. Likewise the swastika forces me to recall a brand (the Nazis) I hate. However, if I were a Hindu, the same swastika might help me recall the god I love.

In short, branding devices are only as good as the brands they recall. They are mnemonic and have no inherent value. The tooth shown here can be a branding device for a dentist. If, however, the dentist displaying this sign has dirty hands and uses rusty pliers, this sign won't drive business his way. His brand sucks. A branding device won't help him.

AT&T. Same shit, different logo?

Given that Telcos are just about the biggest marketing spenders in the US, it's hard if you're interested in advertising not to keep a watchful eye on them. Well, yesterday Ad Age reported that BBDO has launched a new campaign for AT&T (or should I type at&t?) that speaks not about fewest dropped calls but instead coverage in "far-flung places."

I admire much of the work BBDO produces. But the print featured in the article in which place names are combined to, I guess, humorous effect was such a total rip-off of a campaign for a tech company called Riverbed that I am completely appalled. The TV features similar "mash-up" situations but I suppose people will now flock to AT&T because Wes Anderson directed the spots.

I'm not buying any of this. Or bills that are now colored orange for "branding" or renovated stores. Until wireless carriers address their shoddy service, lousy coverage, inflated claims and intentionally confusing offers, people will hate them--and the Telcos will need to continue the heinous and un-free-market practice of penalizing people for leaving them. That's not brand-loyalty, by the way, it's brand black-mail.

If you operate on the assumption that people like brands for the same reason they like particular people, this ain't doing it for me. I've yet to choose a friend based on the color of the clothes she wears or based on the deceptions she propagates. If AT&T wants to be a brand people like, it's about behavior and performance, not crapvertising and cosmetic "branding."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

LinkedIn to Barack.

I don't have a great deal positive to say about anyone--least of all a politician running for President. However, someone working for the Barack Obama campaign has something on the ball. Obama has a LinkedIn page and is inviting us all to join. That's a smart use of new media and is doing more than just telling--it's showing viewers (or attempting to show them) that he is with it.

PS. Barack just responded to my invitation. We are now "LinkedIn." I know it's a ploy but he is getting word of mouth from it, ain't he?

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn.

"Come for a visit. Stay an Eternity." That's the headline on a direct mail piece I just received from The Green-Wood Cemetery in good old Brooklyn. In the piece, I'm invited to "Become a Part of History." Because Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Leonard Bernstein and 560,000 others are interred there, Green-Wood's tagline is "New York's Historic Cemetery.

The dm piece wasn't bad. I actually went to the site and though it's disconcerting that portions of it are "under construction," it's actually pretty interesting.

I'll say this though, nothing makes you feel like crap like getting direct mail from a cemetery. And as we Jews approach the point in the year when god allegedly decides whether we live or die, it's also a trifle disturbing. Especially since god hasn't responded to my Facebook requests. Bastard.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What are all those medals for?

Here are pictures of Generals Patraeus, Eisenhower and Marshall. The later have pretty impressive military resumes and actually won the wars they fought in. Check out how many medals Patraeus has. And how many Eisenhower and Marshall have. I'll admit, I don't understand military ways. I can't make a bed properly or polish my shoes to a high-gloss. But what did Patraeus do to get all those ribbons? Is he that much better a military leader than Eisenhower and Marshall? Or are we just supposed to be impressed and awed and therefore deferential? I wonder how many medals George Walker Bush got from skipping out of the National Guard.

The Award-Winning blog.

Recently Ad Aged won a major Bloward (that's a neologism that combines the neologism blog and the word award, kind of a neoneologism.)

Yes, I won a HalfBright Fellowship bloward. A $100,000 prize that goes to that person or persons whom best represent what the HalfBright stand for.

I'm not big on awards because everything today claims to be award-winning--dry cleaners, car washes, etc. I found the award pictured here just moments ago.

You say volatility. I say integrity.

Cramer-Krasselt had been doing good work for Career Builders. In fact, Career Builders had risen to become the Web's number one job site. Then C-K's Super Bowl spot for the client scored poorly according to a USA Today ad meter (there's a credible source for ya) and the Career Builders told C-K they were putting the account up for review.

C-K decided not to participate in the review and in a memo to C-K staff, CEO Peter Krivkovich said: "There are a few times in your life when you have to tell someone to fuck off and mean it." That memo got leaked and some theorized that Krikovich's perceived volatility would alienate potential clients.

Apparently that hasn't happened. And in short order C-K has won Zantac, Bissell and an advertising jewel, Porsche. They are on the short list for New Balance.

Naturally, you can't go around saying "fuck you" to clients. But you can stand up for your own integrity and the hard work your agency has done. You can still be a good business person and not subject yourself to spine-removing indignities. I'll even go so far as to bet you it's good for your business and your clients'.

Thank you, C-K.

Advertising Weak.

I just got my copy of Adweek, the near-obsolete analog edition, that recounts stories every Monday that if you're tuned into the industry, you read about as they happen. Be that as it may, the "official guide" to Advertising Week 2007 was included with Adweek. The guide is big and glossy and fat. I decided to flip through it.

First, I love that advertising week is only five days long. I know that's the length of a work-week, but the short-changed-ness seems symbolic of an industry that for too long has relied on hyperbole rather than reality.

Second is something I am stunned by. About dozen agencies have taken out full-page ads so as, I suppose, to have their logo prominently in this guide, and I guess to show their support for Advertising Week. Kirshenbaum has an ad. BBDO. TBWA/C/D. Interpublic. Universal McCann. AAAA. Euro. Leo Burnett. DrafFCB. Many others. You know what? They all suck. The ads blow. They say nothing. They aren't beautiful. They aren't smart. They communicate zip.

I know what happens with these ads. They're given to a junior team approximately 45 minutes before closing time. There's no brief, no budget, etc. But why? Why do the ads we do for ourselves suck out loud? Why are they so devoid of content. Why do they make us feel embarrassed to be in the industry many of us love?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Commercials on during 60 Minutes.

A poem.

I pee too often,
My cholesterol's high,
When there's too much pollen,
My eyes aren't dry.

My arteries are clogged,
My erection sucks,
My toes have fungus,
And I've got reflux.

General Betray-us.

The sham continues. The inundation will not abate. The surge is working. Peace is at hand. "We're kicking ass," as Bush said to the Austrians, oops, Australians.

By the way, the base Bush visited for a whopping eight hours last week, is nick-named "Camp Cupcake" by our soldiers. Anbar province, where we are making all this progress, accounts for less than 5% of Iraq. And why has 1/9 (11%) of the population of Iraq fled--that's the equivalent of 33 million Americans.

On the 6th anniversary of 9/11, do something. Refuse to spend money. Throw a rock. Read "The Nation." Do something. We have become 1930s Germany and we have to stop it. Somehow.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

Help wanted: Editors.

With the release of the remake of "3:10 to Yuma," I got to wondering about its length compared to the 1957 original. Then I checked into a few other remakes vs. the originals. Here are my unscientific findings:

3:10 to Yuma orig: 92 mins remake: 117 mins +25
Manchurian Candidate orig: 126 mins remake: 129 mins +3
Cleopatra orig: 100 mins remake: 192 mins +92
Cape Fear orig: 105 mins remake: 128 mins +23

OK. My list is highly arbitrary and maybe you can find movies that belie what seems to me to be a trend of flaccid editing (or lack of editing.) But I betcha somewhere in my thesis there's a shred of evidence that today we take less care in paring our story or message down to its elemental core. Thus we wind up squandering people's time and betraying their trust and our craft.

Be careful who you sleep with.

Back in June, when the Earth was slightly less warm than today, I self-published two posts about the then incipient iPhone. (The iPhone, will it be for U? and i Told you so.)

In each, I pondered if Apple's alliance with AT&T--a consumer unfriendly brand--would be bad for Apple, a resolutely consumer-friendly brand. Well, it appears it is. After all, as Mao used to grumble, "when you sleep with dogs you wake up with fleas."

Jobs just introduced new, better phones at new, lower prices and in the process he and Apple have alienated their loyal customer base, gotten a ton of bad press, made people like myself wonder if Apple is a bad apple. They've behaved, generally, like schnooks.

I would love to have an iPhone. It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely. But now I also wonder if it's de-ceptive.

Fallon Fallin'.

Finally! Something that pertains to the demise of the advertising Old Order--the imminent obsolescence of hide-bound advertising.

But first, a digression. Years ago, I worked for Ally & Gargano which at one time was the brightest light in the advertising universe--the agency that created the brands for FedEx, MCI (when it kicked AT&T's ass), Volvo, Fiat, Saab, Dunkin' Donuts and a more than a few other major companies. When Ally lost FedEx to the former Fallon, McElliot, Rice, that agency ran an ad proclaiming that Fallon would never go the way of Ally, ie never succumb and be killed by mediocrity.

Well history is repeating itself. Last night I ran across this in Ad Age. "Fallon Fall Continues as Shop Loses Bahamas. Citi, United Airlines Have Also Pulled Biz From Agency This Year."

In other words, the mighty have fallen.

Fallon was a great agency that for fifteen years broke through with smart, intrusive work. Something happened and their ability to continue on that course has dissipated. The question for Fallon, Saatchi (their holding company) and Publicis (their holding company's holding company) is now the $64,000 one. Can an agency brand--like any brand--be turned around, resurrected, revitalized?

It's sad. Having been at Ally, I doubt it.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Notes from the 16th Century.

I am reading "The Culture of Cities," a history by a hero of mine, Lewis Mumford. (He is to the study of History what Peter Drucker is to the study of Business.) It is one of his brilliant panoramas on civilization and our development as a species. It's pretty damned impressive.

In it, Mumford quotes a poem by a 16th Century writer called Robert Crowley. It's 500 years old and worth thinking about, especially vis a vis the schmendricks running for president or working for Goldman Sachs or engaging in some other form of rapine or pillage.

And this is a city
In name but in deed
It is a pack of people
That seek after meed [gain].
For officers and all
Do seek their own gain
But for the wealth of the Commons
Not one taketh pain.
And hell without order
I may it well call
Where every man is for himself
And no man for all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Another lie.

Those of you who know me know I have an Asperger's-like obsession with World War II. That said, last month during the anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, I was thinking about the term "mushroom cloud." That term is a horrific canard.

A mushroom cloud does not sound all that bad. Mushrooms are good, tasty and clouds are light and airy, soft and cozy like wispy giant pillows. It's phrases like mushroom cloud that allow politicians like Reagan to proclaim that in the event of a nuclear attack "If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody's going to make it." (Remember the W. Bush administration telling us to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting--protection against a "dirty bomb" attack!)

In reality, the explosion of an atomic or thermo-nuclear bomb does produce a cloud, but more truthfully it also produces temperatures on the ground of greater than 9000-degrees fahrenheit and winds in excess of 1000 miles per hour. The dust of the so-called cloud is rife with immolated human flesh, bones and hair.

We use dozens of terms that hide true meaning like "mushroom cloud" in our daily intercourse. "Global warming" could easily and properly be replaced by "imminent environmental destruction." "Dirty bomb" is another one. Man, if I'm hit by a blast of strontium or cesium or some-other-um, I'm a helluva lot more than "dirty." My insides are being eaten alive, my skin is falling off, I've got a goiter the size of a bowling ball.

My point is this: language is powerful. Choose your words and images carefully and honestly.

How many times do you believe a liar?

I confess. I have been called "Old Testament"in my proclivity to see the world in terms of black and white. Good and evil. Right and wrong. It's probably true. I am exacting and I expect to be told the truth when I'm spoken to. When I'm lied to, I get pissed and I'm apt to boycott or go elsewhere with my business. Or my career.

That's why I ignore the President when he says the surge is working. I'll ignore General Petraeus when he says the surge is working. And I ignore virtually any message from virtually every phone company, airline, candidate, big-box-retailer, etc. It's all a crock of crap. Yesterday, Ad Age reported that AT&T's claim of "fewest dropped calls" (a claim they backed by nearly $1 billion of ad spend) was "inflated." As were nearly all telco claims backed by $5 billion of spend.

The advertising industry (that's us) is both the propagator and the victim of these falsehoods. Our work is ignored because we've lied too often. Because we produce messages that no one believes we're regarded by clients as a commodity and a cost center.

So the question I think for us is this: Is there a way to be honest, to become credible, to actually communicate useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way? In short, how can advertising become influential again?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Why does "search" suck?

I'm looking for a job. As a consequence I go to a variety of job sites and type in my desired title as a search term. Almost invariably I get back matches for Media Planners. Account Executives. And the like. Then, somewhere further down the list, there might be a listing or two for my anticipated title.

This illustrates two things I've learned over the years.
1. Software, as much as we'd like it to be, is not a panacea. I've lived through agencies that think it's going to solve their time-sheet/billing issues, their recruitment issues, even their new business issues. The fact is, software, no matter how good it is, cannot replace human intelligence, such as it is.

2. Software isn't a service end-all. It is merely a tool to help real, live people serve you better.

Undoubtedly search is valuable and important. Consumers can't live without it. But my guess is it only works about half the time, especially if you're looking for things somewhat esoteric like a good job in advertising. It's not that much more effective than any other "service" sellers provide to buyers.

All that being said, I'll keep searching.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Zagats' Guide.

The United States


Long-time residents decry “the fast-food nation.” Good restaurants exist but mostly it's “golden arches, e-coli and vermin.” Decor marred by nearly 1000 Superfund sites, sulpher-spewing oil-refineries, privatization of national parks and laxer pollution standards. Service is “virtually non-existent.” “Everything’s a phone tree” says one respondent. High taxes for everyone except “the super-duper rich.” "Not what it used to be" lament many.

Yo Mama.

Yo Mama is so dumb she thinks "Linked-In" is an online sausage company.

Yo Mama is so dumb she thinks "flash" is something you do with a raincoat on.

Yo Mama is so fat she thinks she's part of the "new media landscape."

editor's note: Yo Mama jokes are a Labor Day special. They will not be repeated.