Monday, March 31, 2008

"One billable hour" or "An hour in an Agency."

3:36 __________ Status. (An email goes out. Two times are proposed for a weekly status meeting.)
3:42 __________ Status. The first person votes on the time she prefers.
3:43 __________ Status. A person agrees with the person above because they have a finance meeting.
3:43 __________ Status. A Senior Vice President agrees with the two people above.
3:51 __________ Status. A Creative Director prefers a different time.
3:53 __________ Status. The first person wonders if the finance meeting can really be completed in 1/2 an hour.
4:11 __________ Status. An ACD agrees with the Creative Director.
4:19 __________ Status. The account lead agrees with the CD and ACD and asks all to confirm.
4:32 __________ Status. The ACD says that it "sounds good!"
4:30 __________ Status. An account person says fine but the status must end early because she and an SVP have a meeting that starts promptly at 12:30.
4:31 __________ Status. The CD says "that's great."
4:31 __________ Status. The first person to respond, 49 minutes ago says, "Sounds good."
4:35 __________ Status. The ACD concurs. "That will force us to be done on time."
4:42 __________ Status. Invitation sent out. It "conflicts with other appointments on my calendar."

One of the biggest ad spenders in America.

Of late I have noticed an inundation of commercials, print ads and web presence from the various branches of the US military. On Forbes the other day, I saw plane after plane after plane dropping literally hundreds of bombs in a recruitment film for the US Air Force.

I saw a commercial during a basketball game--a marine recruitment film. These crack Praetorian Guards, spinning rifles, drawing swords, ready to annihilate.

Just now, I was on Business 2.0's site and clicked onto the Air Force's site once again. Another declaration of the ever-present threats we face from unseen enemies. And then the killer, the tagline: "Above all." Isn't that the English translation of the Nazi "Uber Alles"?

The top three advertising holding companies are all major defense contractors. We are all in this.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey."

I was in DC for 24-hours this weekend and I couldn't get "California Dreamin'" out of my head. I don't know if the Mamas and Papas intended to write a song about the death of America, but that's how those lyrics have always struck me.

Our leaves are brown, and our skies are grey. DC is a police state. There are enormous concrete barricades everywhere, seemingly dropped down willy-nilly all over the city to protect us from the constant threat, the terrorists lurking in every shadow. You cannot get within a quarter of a mile of the White House--we used to be able to march in front of the White House and protest. There are soldiers everywhere in camouflage, with high-powered M-16 rifles, there are cops everywhere with automatic pistols. The anti-aircraft batteries have been removed from near the Washington monument. But a state of siege is still present.

No one speaks about the planes that crashed into buildings six-and-one-half years ago and why there have been no more since then.Did it really happen? Did it stop happening because we now have the vigilance to confiscate Dasani water at "security?" and confiscate a kid's bubble-blowing liquid as she's on her way to camp?

No one talks about the $5000/second we are spending for the right to consume cheese fries and $3.75/gallon gas. No one talks about the 4000 soldiers and the 1100+ private contractors killed in Iraq. (What are they doing there in the first place? Did a private company build the beach heads at Normandy?) No one talks about the 29,275 troops injured in hostile combat or the 500 US soldiers who had lost limbs (fingers and toes don't count.) No one talks about an estimated 104,000-230,000 Iraqi civilian death--or estimates three times that high if you believe independent calculus. No one speaks about 4.5 million Iraqis displaced--all in a country 1/10th the size of the US. These numbers are real. No one talks about them.

When you're in DC, when you see the Soviet-style armed presence, when you think about stolen elections and stolen tax money, and pre-emptive strikes, I thought about the Mamas and the Papas. I wondered about the lyrics I stated above. And I wondered if they mean that government of the people, by the people and for the people has perished from the earth.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's joke time!

I adopted a highway, but it went looking for its birth mother.

A friend of mine showed me her new hard drive.

No. No. No, you pervert. There's nothing sexual in that title. She actually showed me her new hard drive. Get your mind out of the fucking gutter.

You could argue that hard drives are the most utilitarian of all of the accoutrement of the digital age, yet this one was so sleek and beautiful, I immediately wanted it. It looked like something designed by a 21st Century Raymond Loewy.

When I opened up this contraption (which was roughly the size of a pack of fancy European cigarettes) I noticed it said in small print, "designed by Sam Hecht." That's Sam Hecht of the design studio Industrial Facility. They design some pretty fab stuff, you can check out their work at

I bring design up because so few clients and agencies seem to give a hoot about it, while so many consumers do. One look at a Verizon logo and ad and you know exactly what I mean. Good design in product development, corporate identity and/or advertising is merely a way of a company saying, "We care." Do you?

Friday, March 28, 2008

A bit of personal history.

I started writing this blog at the suggestion of a dear friend and mensch. I was unemployed and while freelancing quite a bit, my processors weren't spinning as much as they should have.

He told me to write a blog. I thought it was a pretty boneheaded idea. But this friend is brilliant, so I did. And doing so wound up teaching me a lot.

First off, listen to smart people. Second, if you're a writer, write everyday. Even if it's the writing equivalent of nothing more than a brush-stroke. Write. Find something that enrages you, or excites you, or moves you or somethings you and write about it. Keep in practice. Keep sharp and mentally acute. Put pressure on yourself. And write about something you care about.

It's not important that no one reads this. Why is it unimportant that no one reads this? Because it's about doing things, not just talking about things. This is from Jean Renoir, the great film director: "In 1936 I made a picture named La Grande Illusion in which I tried to express all my deep feelings for the cause of peace. This film was very successful. Three years later the war broke out. That is the only answer I can find."

By the way, the photo I've attached is of a small portion of the original manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Where have all the cynics gone?

The surge is working.

The same government that told us the smoking gun might come in the form of a mushroom cloud, the same government that told us the war would pay for itself, that we'd be greeted like liberators, that Saddam was linked with Al Quaeda, that proof of weapons of mass destruction was incontrovertible, that told us that Brownie was doing a heckuva job, that global warming is a sham, that they are compassionate conservatives, that no child is being left behind, that same government now tells us the surge is working.

Do you believe it? If yes, why?

A meeting with an interactive agency.

Yesterday I got an email from a friend who was on the phone with an interactive agency. This is what she wrote. The names have been changed to protect the asinine. "I am sitting in an open workspace and my partner
is on a conference call right now with -------- --- who we share assets with on --. The word "robustness" has been uttered about 37 times in the past three minutes."

"Well we're going to build a robust website populated by rich content that will organically leverage the community aspects of group modalities. Assuming there are no exingencies concerning digital asset management and curation, we'll aggregate content and archive it for as a pre-condition for syndication." (That usually takes forty-five minutes and is accompanied by 20 powerpoint slides.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

*How to kill an ad.

In a different era, an era without quite so much cynicism about marketing as the present one, in an era in which people used archaic terms like Mr. and Sir, having a disclaimer or an asterisk in your ad, or fifteen seconds of rapid-fire legal copy at the end of a radio or TV spot perhaps didn't raise that many hackles.

Today I saw an banner ad for GMC Full-Size SUVs saying something like they had the "best available fuel mileage in their class.*"

I think people see words like available, or phrases like "optional equipment shown," or asterisks and they say, "You are lying. I'm not listening and I'm not buying." Of course, I'm probably wrong. People still buy cigarettes though they admit to killing you. But they are addictive and therefore demand for them is inelastic.

Sprint's CEO on TV.

Goodby's new Iacocca-esq commercials featuring Sprint's CEO has a lot going for it. The guy seems believable, he seems to be trying, but at the end of the day, by offering me the ability to talk more, he's really not offering me very much. Consumers' issues with telcos involve non-existent customer service, undecipherable bills, bait and switch tactics and virulent over-promise.

The spots also remind me of a ditty I've recited through the years, written by either David Ogilvy or the poet John Betjeman.

When the client moans and sighs,
Make his logo twice the size.
If he still should prove refractory
Show a picture of his factory.
Only in gravest cases
Should you show the clients' faces.

My two-cents says Goodby loses the account within a year. Not their fault, of course, but as Sprint continues to bleed customers (last stat I saw was something like almost 700,000 customers leaving every quarter. Though that's from my memory and could be wrong)someone must be blamed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Which are you?

I noticed something just now. If you mix up the letters of the word Creative you can quickly wind up with the word Reactive.

In a weird way, at least in advertising, the opposite of creative is reactiveness. After all, there are creatives don't create, instead they react to the burps, belches and farts emanating from client orifices. Sadly, most agencies and most clients, and I suppose most Chief Creative Officers and Executive Creative Directors, don't really want creatives. They want reactives. In other words they create a set or rules, protocols, strictures or time-tables so prescriptive and baroque that there is no way to create, only a way to react. So you fill your timesheet working on negotiations not communications.

Of course there's something worse. There are creatives who prefer to be reactives--who choose to be. It's easier. Easier to do the work and easier not having to fight.

I have a new rule.

I just saw a banner ad, no more bland and invisible than most, but still bland and invisible. However for some reason I noticed it nonetheless. The ad was for The Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card.

I have no doubt that The Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card fills a mighty gaping Maslowian need in people's lives. However, this is my rule, take it for what it's worth: Try to keep the very name of your product or service to under six words or under fifty characters. Think iMac. Nano. Air Jordan. Not the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card.

The original title was different.

I was going to call this post "We used to have a government." We used to have regulation of drug-pushing companies and regulation of the sort of commercials they could proffer on TV. We used to have strictures against cigarette companies paying for cancer studies. (See today's NYTimes):
We used to inspect bridges so they don't collapse. We used to monitor cranes so they don't fall on people. We used to have a progressive tax system to help those less fortunate. We used to have a public education system. That's all gone.

But I am wrong. We do still have a government. I call it a give-ernment. It gives tax breaks to the mega-rich (not $500K advertising rich.) It gives bail-outs to Bear Stearns billionaires. It gives hundreds of billions to war contractors. It gives telcos the right to monitor your phone records. It gives the courts the right to suspend the principle--habeas corpus--on which our "freedom" was founded. It gives and gives and gives.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The enemy within.

Last year in the United States 12,658 people were murdered, almost 2/3rds of them with guns. That is just a hair under three 9/11 disasters plus our five years of war dead in Iraq combined. (3000 + 3000 + 3000 + 4000 = 13000.)

Today's New York Times reports that in schools throughout the New York area the traditional fire-drill has been replaced by a drill on how to behave should your classroom be attacked by a gun-wielding sociopath.

One of the hallmarks of a fascist regime is the waging of perpetual war against a virtually unseen enemy. Think Stalin's Russia. Hitler's Germany. Bush's America. There are Al-Quaeda cells lurking round every corner that's why the TSA confiscates your toothpaste and makes you take off your shoes. Meanwhile, we are gunned down by our neighbors who "always seemed so quiet," who were merely exercising their 2nd Amendment rights to riddle innocents with death.

What did you do during the war, Dad?

The New York Times is running four consecutive pages of postage-stamp-sized photos of dead young Americans who weren't greeted as liberators in Iraq. While the CEOs of the top-30 defense contractors earned an average of over $9 million last year, including the CEO of Lockheed-Martin, who earned nearly $30 million, these boys were killed. Their golden parachute is a shroud. They have been denied respect by the Bush-Cheney junta for fear that photographs of their returning flag-draped coffins will undermine the war-effort. By the way, the profits at the top 30 defense contractors have risen by nearly 65% since the war began over five years ago. By the way, this war has lasted longer for the US than WWI, WWII and the Civil War. By the way, during the war, we shopped for really fabulous Manolos.

PS: To see all the mammon-murdered soldiers in a wonderfully-impactful interactive display, please visit:

Basically one portrait is divided up into 4000 little squares, and any square you click on reveals a portrait of another dead soldier. Pay particular attention to the ages of the dead. 19, 27, 21, 22, 29, 18.

And Hernando DeSoda-Water discovered the Fountain of Age.

It seems that many clients, advertising journalists, agencies and creative people are drinking deeply from the not-so-mythical Fountain of Age. They abide by media plans that are straight out of the late 1980s--in which 90% of the spend is for TV--even though TV no longer reaches 90% of the target.

Drink from the Fountain of Age and ignore changes in technology. In fact, when you drink from the Fountain of Age, you stay ignorant. Drink, drink, drink. Utter phrases like "We're not ready for mobile" or "Our customer is older, they're not heavy internet users." Skoal, cheers, L'chaim! Drink from the Fountain of Age!

Your product appeals to those who have $100K+ household income? Buy spots on national TV--where the audience's average household income is $40K. Drink, drink, drink!

Never experiment. Buy TV first. Raise high the banner of Best Practices. The liquid of the Fountain of Age is like nectar. Drink!

Monday, March 24, 2008

The all fiber-optic network.

Verizon whose advertising is dumbed down to absolutely imbecilic levels has decided to tout itself as the all-fiber-optic network. I can hear Verizon clients in the back of my head telling their copywriters to use simpler language because people won't understand anything that isn't at a second grade level. Yet, the same client trumpets the all fiber-optic network as if that has meaning to anyone. Besides, who in their right mind would care?

Do film studios proclaim themselves the all-Panavision lenses studio? Do photographers call themselves the all-ekta-chrome shutterbug? Do I write that I am an all-bodoni copywriter? Does anyone care HOW things are done, how information and images are delivered? NO. They care what is delivered. It was different when NBC became the all-color network, because color you can see.

When it comes to phones and ISPs, people care about service and audio and video quality and price.

Verizon. The all-stupid marketing network.

Ignoring two wars via hyper-thyroidal black men in shorts.

This weekend, like most weekends, most days and most nights, we have once again avoided reality television. No, not made-up reality television. Reality on television. Like the reality that people are dying in record numbers in Iraq and at least two of the -stans. Instead we watched tall black men in shorts.

This reminds me of something said by a short dark man wearing something resembling a diaper: When visiting London in 1931, Mohandas Gandhi was asked by a British journalist what he thought of Western civilization. He made this famous remark:
“I think it would be a good idea.”

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Three questions for John McCain.

You are a supporter of the second amendment, the right to bear arms. You've also stated that you believe there should be no ban on automatic assault weapons, and no waiting period to purchase those weapons. How do you justify the civilian use of guns that can fire 3,000 rounds a minute?

Speaking of amendments, the first amendment guarantees the Freedom of the Press. Would you uphold this amendment and thus lift the Bush-Cheney ban on showing dead American soldiers and flag-draped coffins?

You have stated that the constitution states that America is a Christian nation. Could you tell me where the constitution says that?

By the way.

According to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, the war in Iraq is costing us $5,000 a second--approximately 1/10th of a big national television spot. Or as my 16-year-old says, "that's more than my allowance."

Let's get dirty.

Generally speaking, I have a good deal of respect for the work BBDO does. The account they can't seem to do anything but crap on, however, is Gillette. Apparently there's a new Gillette "Clinical Strength Anti-perspirant." First, I ask you to consider what an anti-perspirant clinic must look like. Welcome to the "Fat Ass Institute of Sweat." A sweat think-tank.

Second, this is this product's tagline: "Change your life, not your shirt."

Is that the goal of American men? "Man, I've changed my life. I have an seven-figure salary. A 6'1" blonde, Swedish girl-friend who fucks like a bunny, a 12-room apartment in a pre-war on lower 5th Avenue, and I haven't changed my shirt in 27 days."

Finally, the copy of this ad: "provides 34% better wetness protection than a prescription product. And you don't need a prescription." Wait a sec, there's a prescription anti-perspirant?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Advertising movie titles.

No Country for Old Men.
The Bad and the Beautiful.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Dumb and Dumber.
In a Lonely Place.

Daily dumbness update.

Yesterday I got on a crosstown bus and noticed the most insipid advertising I've seen in quite a long time. Yes. There are degrees of insipidness (or is it insipidosity or insipidity?) The Lincoln work I spoke about earlier this week is bad and over-blown and in-credible, but this work is just flat-out nauseatingly, cloyingly dumb.

I'm talking about work for the toilet paper Cottonelle. Oh! There's a little puppy in the ad, that's sooooooooo cute. Their ass-wipes must be soft and cuddly. There's a border around the ad that flares out in the lower right hand corner like the cheeks of a cute little keister! Oh how cute. Then there are the headlines, or are they ass lines, or butt cracks? "It shines where the sun don't" is the only one I remember. But the tagline is the culmination of crass, the apotheosis of awful: "Be kind to your behind."

Maybe this sort of Hallmark/Reader's Digest/Grandma needle-pointing a sampler plays in some ad-guy's fantasy of what Kansas is like. But New York ain't Kansas. I'm not sure Kansas is either anymore. This is scrapping (or wiping) the bottom.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Beware of hobgoblins.

A century and a half ago Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Unfortunately, many clients and marketing experts are foolishly consistent. They run their worlds via best practices and the underlying belief that life is an "if-then" proposition, as in "if I follow the dogma, my results will be good."

The problem is most everyone follows the dogma. Most everyone introduces products or runs advertising or makes movies that satisfy the strictures of conventional wisdom. (Though, if you think about it, the conventional is rarely wise.)

This morning I read an article in Ad Age called "How can you get the most from digital ads?" Included in this drivel were "Five platinum rules for effective digital ads." (Presumably the rules are now platinum because gold has been so devalued.) You will notice that there's nothing in the rules about being interesting, newsy, fresh, new, relevant, funny. No. That's against the rules.

'Five Platinum Rules' for Effective Digital Ads
They're not fun, but necessary, says Marketing Evolution.

1. Know the purpose of your campaign and psychological mechanism of your ad.

2. Apply the brand mark persistently.

3. Use a simple, iconic message. and make sure the image and copy work together. It's tempting to use flash animation to create TV-like ads, but outside interstitials, gateways and over-the-page narratives are too complex for consumers with divided attention to grasp. Animation in other formats (such as banners and boxes) should be used to focus attention, not tell a story.

4. Consider the format. Keyword buys can work for consumers actively seeking information, page skins to raise brand awareness, and over-the-page formats for more complex, animated narratives.

5. Optimize creative. Pre-testing is relatively rare outside TV, but it can make a difference in digital, too. Marketing Evolution has found much if not most of the variation in campaign effectiveness comes from the creative, not the media buy.

To reach people and motivate them, you must break rules. Not slavishly follow them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dumbest ad in the solar system.

Or at least the lunar system. A banner ad for a Lincoln 2009 MKS. The visual shows something that represents either the sun or the moon eclipsing something that represents either the sun or the moon. Then comes the headline:

"Something this awe-inspiring doesn't come along often."

This is a Lincoln. A car no one buys anymore. A car that is completely irrelevant to anyone under 65 or anyone who doesn't work for a car service. This is the kind of abject advertising stupidity that's contributed to Ford losing over $15 billion last year.

Eugene O’Neill on Ireland, Life and Advertising.

“There is no present or future, only the past happening over and over again.”

A dot more on Iraq.

I have typed 1000 dots here. Multiply each dot by around 800 and that's how many people we have killed in Iraq. Multiple each dot by 2000 and that's how many we have killed and maimed.


The words below are from Carol Reed's and Graham Greene's movie "The Third Man." They are spoken by Orson Welles to Joseph Cotton. I put them here because they are about dots.

"Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Five years in Iraq.

Today is our 5th Anniversary of the American-tax-payer-supported carnage in Iraq.
Over 700,000 Iraqis reported dead.
Almost 4,000 Americans.
I decided to hold the first-ever Blog-Concert.
One song. One dissonant song.
By Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht from Threepenny Opera in 1928.

The Cannon Song

John was all present and Jim was all there
And Georgie was up for promotion
Not that the Army gave a bugger who they were
When confronting some heathen commotion

The troops live under
The cannon's thunder
From Sind to Cooch Behar
Moving from place to place
When they come face to face
With a different breed of fellow
Whose skins are black or yellow
They quick as winking chop him into
Beefsteak tartar

Johnny found his whiskey too warm
And Jimmy found the weather too balmy
But Georgie took them both by the arm
And said "Don't ever disappoint the army!"

Chorus repeat

John is a write-off and Jimmy is dead
And Georgie was shot for looting
And young men's blood goes on being red
And the army still goes on ahead recruiting

Is bullshit green?

I spent $79 on the world's most expensive liquid last night--four cartridges of ink for my HP printer. The ink is cased in a card-board box, which covers a foil-lined plastic, which covers a regular plastic which covers a cellophane like plastic. The nodules from which the ink is squirted are covered by a plastic tape. Inside all that packaging, there is more packaging, ironically enough printed in green to imply that there is an environmental-friendliness to all this. A folded green envelope is wrapped in plastic and packed with an 8"x11.5" folded piece of paper printed in four color, which is essentially an ad urging me to print more pictures of someone else's family. The copy on the envelope beckons me to "Be environmentally friendly!" by mailing back (post-paid) my empty ink cartridge (one to a package)so it can ostensibly be recycled. There's another piece of tape to peel off so the envelope stays closed, and no dearth of what we used to call "booger glue" to keep the whole kit and kaboodle together. In all, literally a dozens bits of glue, plastic, paper and tape. You know, those things that will live on after the human race extinguishes itself.

Ford has the same idea.

Now children, there used to be a company called Ford. At one time they sold one out of every two cars in the world. But then for fifty years they produced a lousy, heavily polluting product that broke down on a schedule while world-wide competitors introduced better products and better service. By 2008, Ford's market share was down approximately 75% from its peak and instead of revamping their company, Ford decided to come up with yet another new advertising campaign.

Ford, children, has forgotten that for many consumers--for instance, the 12% of the US population that lives in California, they cannot even give away a car. In fact, for most people giving away a Ford is like giving away herpes. Nobody wants it. So, rather than changing the way they do business or developing a way to let people sample their wares without dealing with odious car-salesmen, Ford came up with a new slogan: "Drive One" which they claim is akin to Nike's "Just Do It." Mind you, according to the merrily fascist Wall Street Journal, this is Ford's 9th new slogan in the last 30-years, including zingers such as: "Quality is Job 1," "No Boundaries," "Look Again," and "Bold Moves."

Ford lost $15 billion over 2006 and 2007 and into 2008. So they hired as their CEO former head of defense contractor Boeing--hoping that they can convince the warmongerment in Washington that they are vital to our national security, but in truth, Ford's decline was inexorable.

They tried to solve a 21st century problem--global competition--with a mid-20th century solution--massvertising. They didn't realize that people had stopped listening, and stopped caring years earlier.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I hate offsites, part 274.

About six-weeks ago the senior "leadership" of the agency at which I work had an offsite where we spent about ten hours cosigned to a windowless, fluorescent lit room in which we discussed how to make the agency a better place.

I was cynical when we started the session. But now that I've just been forwarded the notes from the session (you know, those words written without context, grammar or sense on 24"x36" over-sized sticky pads)my mood has not improved.

Here are some of the selected gems two-million-dollars worth of compensation came up with that day:

• Remove silos.
• More cohesion.
• Common understanding and plan of where we’re going
• Knowledge and respect (for each other’s roles)
• Purpose/Direction
• More cohesion
• Same page/clear focus
• Improve quality of work/life
• Improve listening, understanding

As Sartre wrote, "everything began to spin and I found myself siting on the ground: I laughed so hard I cried."

What makes New York different.

Today's "To-Do" List.

1. Avoid getting hit by construction cranes falling 27-stories.
2. Kiss three-dozen Irish girls wearing "kiss me" buttons.
3. Vomit on street.
4. Buy major investment bank for 10 cents on the dollar.
5. Tour Iraq while wearing body-armor.
6. Declare the surge a success.
7. Ask my doctor.
8. Worry about a celebrity.
9. Eat tainted food or give a carcinogenic toy to a young child.
10. Over-pay for sex. (Again.)
11. Drink pharmaceutical-tainted water.
12. Cater to a super-delegate.
13. Bail out a billionaire.
14. Warm the Earth.
15. Submit.
16. Obey.
17. Shop for consumer goods I don't need.
18. Buy a house made of emulsified wood-chips for no money down.
19. Be foreclosed.
20. Live with my family of four on $40K/yr.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

There are no right angles here.

Kino, the film restorers ( have just released a four volume set of early German Expressionist movies, which included the 1919 movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It's been a long time since I'd seen this movie and I must say I had forgotten how good, raw, original and elemental it is.

The sets had a look that combined Van Gogh, Chagall and Andre Kertesz. The still here is one small example. Next time you think Tim Burton is original, brush up your Caligari. Sometimes you need to go backwards to see something you haven't seen before, tonight I went back 89-years to do so.

What's in a name?

This is a dry-cleaner in NY. Adventurous dry cleaners are one of the last things I need.

Laurel and Hardy and Macbeth,

Yesterday I went out to Brooklyn and saw Patrick Stewart in an innovative production of Macbeth. (Macbeth, for those of you who don't know it, is not a new McDonald's burger.) The production was modern--complete with impressive lighting, videos projections, dissonant sound design and hip-hopping "weird sisters." There was fear, horror, laughter and language. Timeless truths. All in Brooklyn.

Then at home on Turner Classic Movies I watched two Laurel and Hardy essentials. The Music Box in which the boys try to move a piano up a steep flight of steps (yes, the plot is that complicated) and Sons of the Desert, in which the boys try to go to a convention in Chicago.

Yes, Laurel and Hardy are hardly high comedy. But as anyone, even Shakespeare, will tell you there's a lot of comedy in a fat man falling into a fountain. Stan Laurel was a genius. His face, his eyebrows, his mangling of the language ("we're like two peas in a pot") are genius.

I guess there is an advertising point here.

The threesome of Laurel, Hardy and Macbeth are original, real and evocative. They move and touch. Kind of what advertising should do.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Another reason I love New York.

When the subway re-routes, you are forced to take a different path to work. This is a trompe l'oeil I passed this morning on Prince and Mercer, I think.

Buick does it again.

There is a Buick ad on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal a beaming picture of Tiger Woods wearing a ridiculous green apron with a giant Buick logo on it. (Of course, Mr. Logo himself has in his contract that he can't be shown without wearing a Nike emblazoned hat, but the fact that Woods is merely a spokes-shill for any company willing to pay him millions hasn't deterred the "marketers" at either GM or Leo Burnett, Buick's agency.

Does anyone anywhere really believe that Tiger Woods, the Bill Gates of the links, drives a Buick? But that's besides the point I guess.

The headline says, "Win Tiger as your caddy." For some reason the word caddy is italicized, but I can't figure out why. Is it a reference to Cadillac? Or is the notion of Tiger Woods carrying your golf bag so stupendous that Burnett italicized the word to underscore the high-comedy of this concept.

About ten years ago, Buick sold almost one-million cars a year in the US. Today they sell way fewer than 300,000. Most people wouldn't be caught dead in a Buick showroom without their portable oxygen tanks. In other words the brand is wholly irrelevant.
Does anyone believe that linking the brand to Woods will invigorate Buick?

I hearby proclaim this ad campaign and its website as the winner of Ad Aged's first DUMMY AWARD for meritorious efforts in insulting the intelligence of the public, wasting money and jerking off in public.

A Chai-ku.

That is, a Jewish Haiku...

Some weeks feel like ten,
Never-ending and awful,
Oy oy oy oy oy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

As I got out of bed this morning.

And kissed my $4000/hr. hooker and bid her godspeed , I went into my living room to write this blog. Ah! the lures of the flesh are great, her firmness, her expertise, her...willingness to fulfill my every whim and caprice, BUT I HAVE A BLOG TO WRITE. And as Con Ed used to proclaim in olde New York, "Dig We Must." And so, while young Ashley in the other room bares her soul and her self and beckons me oh so alluringly, I reassert that though for most the spirit is weak but the flesh is willing, that as a Captain of the Blogoshere, the blog must go on, and so it goes. And here it is.

There is yet another new campaign for the world's number two chip maker, AMD. In about the last three years, my count says there have been about five other campaigns. Imagine for a minute how quickly AMD would be buried if Intel's work didn't suck the silicon right off the bone. AMD's new online ad? "As innovative as..." And then a photo slides in of sliced bread! Whoo hoo as WaMu would say.

I have a small bug up my keister about AMD because as an independent contractor I tried to pitch it once. This is the most banal, ham-handed, stooooopid work I've seen since Eliot Spitzer discovered the wire transfer.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm in a meeting and I heard this.

From an account guy.
"Can I ask a clarifying question on this?"

Is there another kind of question?
An obfuscating one?

Oprah Opdate.

Since launching her online video conference book club class meeting get-together event chazarai with Eckhart Tolle, Oprah has attracted over two million viewers and has had the iTunes top podcast download every day since 3/3.

In short, without any real infrastructure, just enormous popular appeal, Oprah has created a brand new Web network.

Historically speaking, I wonder if Oprah's network is a precursor to the 21st Century version of the formation of United Artists in the 1910s and 20s. United Artists was a creative consortium of DW Griffith, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. They used their collective popularity to undo the strictures of the orthodox studio system and create better content.

Betcha this is what happens next.

Ghandi on Advertising.

With all due modesty I believe I have more ideas per second than about ten creative people put together. I think I was born blessed with dual-core processors in my head and they keep spinning well after the assignment is "done." I learned early on, again I was blessed, that what separates mediocre agencies from the one or two good ones is that good agencies keep making their work better even after it's sold. They keep pushing.

I do the same, speaking to account and creative people about ideas. They nod politely and hope I'll go away. In other words their complacency is akin to Ghandi's passive resistance. Their attitude, "If I listen to this, I have to work harder, call my client, stay late." Fuck it.

They'd rather suck. No wonder I've had four jobs in four years.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


This morning on the way to work, I wore a baseball cap from my Alma Mater. The hat was manufactured by Nike, and on the back these words are embroidered: "Engineered to the exact specifications of championship athletes."

Come on guys. This is a fucking hat with a velcro closing.

Women with stones on their spines.

Every resort, every spa, every portrait of luxury I see these days, seems to have a photo of a topless dame with rocks on her back.

So-called creative people, who gravitate toward Apple computers seldom "think different." In fact most often they "think same." And allow their clients to regress to the mean as well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Satires on the ad industry.

You don't have to be Jonathan Swift to satirize the ad industry. Mostly because the ad industry satirizes itself every day.

There was a good one in this week's issue of Adweek. On page 10 there is a headline that says: "New Business." What follows claims to be an agency scorecard--keeping tabs of pitch performance since Jan. 1.

This chart which delineates the net gains and losses of 25 agencies has a total of approximately $2.5 billion of new business won this year and only about 1/4 of that or $600 million lost. My favorite line item? Mullen lost $50 million of Lending Tree and Euro RSCG picked up Lending Tree worth $225 million. So the account grew by $175 million when the client switched agencies.

Ah, truth in advertising.

Kicking the bucket.

Everyday I go to more fucking meetings than former Soviet dissidents went on death marches. There's one word that I hear in every meeting I attend. That word is bucket, as in:

"We put this content in three buckets."
"We broke this down into buckets."
"We bucketized this."

I think bucket is an ugly word and I don't understand why its use has proliferated. Can't you say you categorized this? Or we classified this? Why is everything in a bucket? Fuck it.

A new word.

Just this morning I read something I liked in Wired magazine. It emphasizes the necessity of reading absolutely everything you can put your hands on in this fast-moving era we live in.

As the rest of the world is saying we've moved from Mass to personalized, Wired is proclaiming this the era of hyper-local.


And yes, there will be a quiz tomorrow. As there is everyday.

While you were sleeping.

Oprah changed the world.
That's right, the big-headed, leonine-haired media mogul did something that could sound yet another peal from the death knell of broadcast television. In a partnership with e-bay-owned, VOIP-pioneer Skype, Oprah, with Eckhart Tolle, conducted a simul-international-bookclub discussion which attracted 500,000 viewers and has been the top podcast on iTunes for the past week or so. Another session takes place tonight and every Monday for the next nine weeks.

Media traditionalists, best-practic-ites and Luddites have reveled in the fact that Oprah's experiment crashed.(Though its feed was 240 Gbps.) But Oprah is smarter than the nay-sayers (most of whom come from shops like Digitas who abhor innovation--these cretins are the 21st Century version of the 20th Century people who used to shout "Get a horse!") As the Big O writes, "pioneering this new platform will always come with risks. We will keep moving forward, attempting to break new ground,..."

So, there you go. While you were writing a spot or "crafting" an ad, Oprah was having a live interactive, international conversation with half a million people. Once again, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Einstein on Marriage.

Most people don't know that Einstein married and divorced a woman, Mileva Maric, and had two children with her, one of whom was mentally handicapped and died, probably during WWII in a mental institution. When he was on the outs with her, he wrote her these conditions:

A. You will make sure
1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, you will forego
1. my sitting at home with you;
2. my going out or traveling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:
1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reporach me in any way;
2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.

I feel like writing notes like this sometimes. Not to my wife. To account people. And clients.

Thanks, Al.

Water is wet. Heat is hot. And other big news.

Jaguar the nearly defunct automaker is at it again. Jaguars have had at least a forty-year reputation of breaking down, burning up, or simply not running. As they used to say "Ask the man who owns one." (In fact, in the early days of Jaguar in the US, if you drove through the mountains, you had to open up the carburetor on the way up the mountains, and close it up again on the way down. Jaguars were built only for the UK where the highest altitude is 3000 feet. But, as usual, I digress.) What's more, Jaguar competes in the classiest and most competitive niche in the automotive marketplace--the sphere dominated by Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti. All manufacturers that make attractive machines that actually work and that actually maintain their resale value.

OK and whew. That's a roundabout way of saying Jaguar's reputation for mechanical integrity and reliability sucks. What no one has ever ever questioned is that Jaguars are beautiful. So now, as 7000 Jaguars languish on lots, as sales are virtually non-existent, Jaguar launches a new car via a new ad blitz. Their headline? "This is the new Jaguar." Wow. Seminal.

Nothing else in the ad except photos that show how gorgeous the car is. Nothing that says the car works. Nothing that says anything--that it's fun-to-drive, innovative, safe, as good as a Lexus.

There is or there should be when possible, a news element to advertising. The best advertising is NEWS. News isn't that Jaguar is gorgeous.

Maybe when Jaguar finally closes up shop because they can't sell any cars, that won't be news either.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Does a brick have an inside?

As the world has grown increasingly dumber, I've found some solace in reading books by or about the brilliant. It turns out that many of these bona fide geniuses are scientists--physicists in particular. Though I understand nothing of physics, what I've discovered is that these people are artists of the highest order. They solve problems not with cyclotrons and particle accelerators but with the sheer force of their creativity and imagination. Also these physicists are almost always relentless--they don't stop until they breakthrough. A lesson all of us in advertising can learn from.

Right now I am reading a book by Nobelist Richard Feynman, "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman." It's basically little anecdotes about his love of unraveling. This short passage particularly struck me. Feynman was a graduate physics student at Princeton in the 30s and his peripatetic mind led him to audit a graduate philosophy class. Naturally he is called on by the professor and asked "would you say an electron is an essential object." Like me, Feynman had no idea what an essential object is, so, like a good account guy, rather than answering the prof's question, he asked one instead. "Is a brick an essential object?" He writes: "What I had intended to do was to find out whether they thought theoretical constructs were essential next question was going to be, 'What about the inside of the brick'--and then I would point out that no one has ever seen the inside of a brick. Every time you break the brick, you only see a surface."

What I find important here is Feynman's questioning. He doesn't merely accept an assignment from his professor. He works hard to find what the professor is really asking, challenging the professor the whole way, learning himself and teaching the professor.

This is what we should do with clients. The ad business needs more creative questioners. Not rote answerers.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Five years in VietRaq.

As we approach our fifth annihloversary in Iraq, I happened upon a website that keeps a running total on what we've spent to date on the war that Rummy told us would pay for itself.

Browse the site for a couple of minutes. There are trade-off calculators that show you how many schools we could have had if we hadn't been so busy killing 4,000 American teenagers and 700,000 Iraqis.

The death of Firebrand.

Firebrand, a company that ran a website that basically let you watch commercials and was hosted by bosomy vixens, and who launched to great fanfare (and great disappointment--full page ads in the trade press announced their launch before their site was ready) has just announced that they're going belly-up.

I could never really figure out why they were in business in the first place. Now I don't have to worry about it.

Is honeyshed next?


As an amateur historian (who is, with all due modesty, better read than most professional historians) I've always decried graffiti as evidence that the Vandals are taking over, as they did in ancient Rome. Now, I wonder (not that I approved of writing on walls) if the explosion of graffiti that seemed to start in the late 70s was really the harbinger of today's Wiki-World. Edifices have collapsed--they have little meaning--see the top photo--a courthouse on 161st Street in the Bronx. Today people want to be heard. They don't sit in straight rows and wait to be spoken to. No, they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they deserve a voice.

Perhaps that is the class struggle we're really facing in America now, and the world. The plutocrats versus the democrats. The same class struggle the world has faced from the very beginning. The same class struggle that gave us Moses, Jesus and Marx--both Karl and Groucho.

Say goodnight, Gracie.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Two words.

Politics, like advertising, is often a battle of the words that take hold in people's minds. Pepsi's brand value is greater per sales than Coke's because Pepsi was able to stake out and claim the word "young." That immediately put Coke down as "old." Same is true I think for Amazon vs. Barnes & Noble.

To date, the Right has been superior to the Left in the war of the words. Ronald Reagan's phrase "card-carrying liberal," has demonized liberalism to this day. The Right has had success with phrases like "anti-abortion." No one is pro-abortion. Though a majority of the nation is pro-choice. You can say the same about myriad other phrases that permeate our language, like Clean Air Act, or No Child Left Behind, or Exit Strategy (which is a strategy about how to stay longer. A take on Groucho's "Hello, I must be going."

Recently, I have noticed that the Left has caught onto this. About a week ago, I saw the phrase "E-coli conservatism." This is basically a castigation of those Right-wing ideologues who believe government is so inherently bad that it's better to have e-coli in the food supply than government protection.

A word I saw just today is VietRaq. I don't have to explain what that means. But it will be interesting to see how John McCain does.

Two charts that explain it all.

There are natural laws in the universe that apply to advertising. One of the most powerful is regression to the mean. We make things for the masses to consume and therefore there is a comfort in making what we make usual, comfortable and beige. That is, we create work and then judge it by criteria such as "it must be ok, it feels like something I've seen before." You can put virtually every ad into that category, every politicians' commercial, virtually every non-indie flick, and virtually all counter-culture. For instance, I grew up in an era where everyone wore jeans in order to be different.

This is from Goodby's website, that is Goodby the winner of Agency of the Year the last two years in a row: "Finally, we believe in treating our audience with respect. This means presuming they have a certain level of intelligence, discrimination and sense of humor. In doing so, we think we will be awarded a better form of interest and engagement."

That's pretty good.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dead or dying brands.

I guess because I wrote yesterday about Sears, I started thinking about brands that are dead or dying and are highly unlikely to be resuscitated.

I saw recently a banner ad for Lincoln automobiles. Does anyone remember Lincoln? Does anyone feel positively about it? Does anyone associate Lincoln with anything but a New York City "Black Car" with 375K miles on it and no suspension? Is there anyone under 70 in the US who shops for a Lincoln? Naw. It's one of the seven or nine last cars you buy before you die.

That said, I went on The site has all the cliches of every other website, auto or otherwise. Bad synth music. A car that rotates. And a headline so banal, so meaningless, so empty, so devoid of TRUTH that it makes me sick and sad. "We started with a dream, and built a car around it."

No, you started with a Ford chassis and built an obsolescence around it.

As I have said before in this space, dead brands are legion: Lincoln, Buick, Pontiac, virtually all American airlines, perhaps Dell, and so it goes. Other brands are still alive but only because a better competitor hasn't yet come into the market.

So to the agencies that handle these brands and to the CMOs that run them, here's an offer: give me a call at 1 646 638 5505 and give me a week. If I come up with something that revitalizes your brand pay me $1 million cash. If I don't just pay my expenses and go out of business.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I'm dumb.

Today's New York Times advertising column reports about a new campaign for Sears. Also on the back-page of at least two sections of the four section paper, two full-page ads heralding the acquisition of AG Edwards by Wachovia Securities. Both campaigns are way over my head--I don't get what they're saying or what it means to me. And last I checked my IQ was in the high, Republican double-digits.

Let's start with Wachovia's. Their ads exalt the word "with," because, I suppose AG Edwards is now with Wachovia. One ad features a photo of four young boys laying in the surf on the beach. The headline reads, "WITH IS A POWERFUL THING." The first line of copy proclaims (fasten your seatbelt Vladmir Nabokov) "With. Four letters allowing you to declare a choice that you've made." Wow, if that isn't profound! Like, when I declare "I won't have relations with a woman who has oozing leprosy." That's proclaiming a choice I've made. The first line of a second ad that has a stirring headline that simply says "With" is this: "A simple, unassuming word that's nonetheless powerful. It connects. Creates a bond. Defines relationships." Jeepers. What this has to do with two financial services companies is thoroughly beyond me. I mean really. I just don't get it.

Now onto Sears. Sears' ads beckon the reader to "Reimagine You." The CMO of Sears explains it this way: "“We have to do a better job of collecting our products and turning them into experiences." OK. So, the ad shown here with a guy and a riding mower, "Reimagine yourself as the alpha neighbor" is now an experience? Does anyone anywhere think the average American knows what the adjective "alpha" means?

This is "brand" advertising. And the reason agencies and CMOs so quickly get the axe. It's obtuse, masturbatory and vapid. Maybe it should run for president instead.