Friday, May 30, 2008

When buildings fall on people.

When two people die from a crane disaster in New York it has a greater impact upon us than when 127,000 people die from a cyclone in Myanmar or scores of thousands die from an earthquake and its aftershocks in China. But that's not what this post is about.

This post is about buildings that fall on people, mine disasters that kill, toxic waste pumped into ground water, defense contractors who steal billions. Politicians can breath through their mouths and make their speeches and gain their photo ops. But these things will continue to occur because the potential penalties are out of whack with the profits these companies can earn. In other words, the risk of being caught is far outweighed by the potential rewards.

If the penalty for murder were a $5,000 fine and 40-hours of community service, the homicide rate would likely increase. If the fine for shoddy work in constructing a luxury high-rise where units start at $1.7 million is $250,000, where's the incentive or the imprecation to abide by the law?

Another example of e-coli conservatism at its pernicious worst.

The three types of loyalty.

Loyalty is a word you hear with some frequency within the padded walls of most agencies. And since agencies, like virtually all businesses--including government--are social organizations, I thought I'd spend a moment or two ruminating, or even fulminating on the topic.

There are, I conclude, three types of loyalty.

There's loyalty to your boss. As long as your boss recognizes you for your talent and supports and promotes you--even if you happen to be more talented than he or she--you owe that person loyalty.

There's loyalty to your craft. This is adherence to your belief of what good is and being unwavering and uncompromising in that.

And then, most important, there's loyalty to yourself. Belief that your essential talent, determination and such are deserving of respect and reward. This sort of loyalty overlaps with integrity. The moral standards you adhere to in order to uphold your standards. You don't steal. You don't connive. You speak your mind.

The mistake people make is they forget the third type of loyalty--loyalty to yourself. People who ignore that loyalty inherently believe loyalty cuts only one way. Their refrain is usually something like: they give me a paycheck, I give them loyalty. You know, the "I guess I'm lucky to have a job" loyalty.

All I can say to that is, grow up and be loyal.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some brief thoughts on briefs.

Nearly every agency I've ever been sentenced to has had a tussle or two about how crappy their briefs are. They blame mediocre work on mediocre briefs. The fulminate and put together committees on creating a better form. They then demand a certain scrupulousness on creating briefs and so on.

I believe in the brief. But there is something way more important. That is the absolute drive to do work that people haven't seen before. That informs, moves, entertains. It's really that simple. Do something good. Have the leaders of the agency sell daily to the client the need to breakthrough and be different. In short, the briefs we should be fighting over are not the individual ones for ads on the "$49.99 Call Your Fucking Estranged Mother Plan." The briefs we should be fighting over are simpler: Who are we as an agency and what do we do? That's the only brief that is really important.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

There's a Sprint ad in the WSJ today.

On the front page of the Marketplace section. It's absolutely awful. Type, type and more type announcing their Simply Everything Plan.

The ad has a ton of asterisks. But since Sprint has an agency that cares, Goodby, this is how the mouse-type reads:

"Okay. Take a deep breath. What follows wasn't our idea. And there's a lot. But rest assured, our plan won't disappoint. Fact is, when things seem too good to be true, a laundry list of legal text is par for the course."

In other words, Goodby, a good agency made something ok out of something horrid.

Etched in the annals of dumbness.

The daily onslaught of dumbness in modern Amerika knows no limits. From street signs in Manhattan that have elected to abbreviate “avenue” as “av” (to save a letter?) to being twenty-fourth in line for take-off this morning at LaGuardia, to a president who gives up golf during a war he started in order to show his sense of sacrifice, as Vonnegut might say, “and so it goes.”

This morning I got on the Delta Shuttle to Boston. I’ll admit I think there’s a battle raging between supermarket owners, airlines and movie theater owners as to who has the worst management, but this was a new one on me and left me nearly as speechless as I get.

A message is printed (at an upward slant, of course) on the “other” side of the Delta-branded vomit bag so you can also use it during a stopover to say your seat is occupied. And that message says, in all caps: “I’LL BE BACK.” Just what I want my vomit bag to tell me.

A poem.

nothing says spring.

nothing says spring like puerto ricans fishing
for carcinogenic fish
declared dead
three decades ago.

pulling up
condoms and
plastic bags.
not bass.

--e.e. cummings

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How many people in your agency fit this description?

"He's a 40-watt bulb in a halogen world."

[ ] 1-5.
[ ] 6-10.
[ ] 11-19.
[ ] 20 or more.

Mrcn rlns chrgng fr bggg.

American Airlines is seeking to improve its bottom line by charging you $15 if you choose to stow a bag. Apparently all that baggage adds weight which costs fuel. That being the case, I wonder why my 110-pound daughter should pay the same as the typical 300-lb behemoth who heads out to Chicago for business.

The headline of the post is "American Airlines charging for baggage" written without vowels. I wrote it as I imagined a world where things we take for granted as free now come with a price-tag attached. Blogspot charging for vowels. American Airlines charging an "engine maintenance fee." Imagine a "cup fee" at Starbucks or a "lid fee." How about a "vote-processing-fee" in November? Not a poll-tax, that would be un-constitutional of course, but a simple counting fee. Or an Eliot Spitzer genital-fondling fee. Schtupping is included, but anything more than that entails a surcharge.

I'll leave it at this. American Airlines will only alienate its already alienated customers. Alienate is too mild a word: people will hate them more than ever. They will take it out of the staff. There will be lawsuits when bags are lost. This will be a public relations nightmare. The carrier will be in chapter 11 sooner with this policy than without.

In short, AA's charge for baggage policy is about as rapacious 19th-Century robber baron as you can get. If the marketplace offers choices, people will choose to fly someone else.

"We know why you fly" is American Airlines' slogan. I'm pretty sure the reason we fly isn't to be barraged by annoying and petty charges that piss us off.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fad vs. Fact.

In the early days of the internet, companies sprouted like marijuana plants in California. They spent millions upon millions on TV commercials or, nominally, to create a brand. Then when the initial capital was spent, there was nothing left. Because there had never been any there there. They were fad-based. Not fact-based.

This week, Synarchy named a new CEO. And Crispin lost, after just 13 months, the portion of the Nike business they had wrested from Weiden & Kennedy. This leads me to ask a very simple question: Can I see your portfolio? What brands has your leadership built, transformed or regenerated? I cannot cast aspersions toward Crispin for Burger King, but what else? Haggar slacks? VW? It remains to be seen if Crispin will be able to make Microsoft cool.

As for everyone else, those figureheads at the head of companies, what have you done? Wrung costs out of a system? Retained employees? Presided over 3.7% growth?

Fads and people who are faddish get big jobs. Then they fail. And everyone once in a while, perhaps, substance will prevail.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A sunny day in New York.

This is by Andre Kertesz 60 or so years ago.

What I do when I can think of nothing to write about.

There is no shortage of creative people I admire. So when I am stuck, I read something by one of them to get unstuck. Most times it works.

Here today are two quotations by the great director Billy Wilder--a man who came to America in the late 1930s speaking little English and quickly wrote and directed brilliant, funny, important and alive movies in the most American vernacular.

I think these have direct application to life and advertising. Though clients might not see it that way. Perhaps these are the original "Think different."

"An actor entering through the door, you've got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you've got a situation."

"I have ten commandments. The first nine are, thou shalt not bore. The tenth is, thou shalt have right of final cut."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Experiential advertising.

One of the cliches of the current marketing world is "experiential advertising" or "marketing." It's all the rage. The experiential segment of the industry is growing at a halcyon clip.

Posit that.

You call customer service and need ten minutes to get through a phone tree, then you battle with a rep who is either surly or unable to help you. You land at LaGuardia at 11PM and somehow, though no other planes are landing, no gate is ready. You're told your baggage will be on carousel 3, you wait there for ten minutes and there's an announcement it will emerge on carousel 5, then another garbled announcement sends you like a tennis ball back to carousel 3. You can't get help in a big box retailer--you can't find anyone and when you do, they know nothing.

This isn't bad customer service, this is experiential advertising.

Experiential advertising. Get it right or go out of business.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The dead.

Fifteen years ago I got sent to Toronto to shoot a package of eight commercials. In the middle of the shoot, for about one minute, the director shut down the set and all went quiet. It was Veteran's Day and we paused for a minute and thought about our war dead.It was solemn and real, meaningful and heartfelt.

Monday in Amerika, the land of the fee and the home of the craven, is Memorial Day. Over 4000 young Amerikans and close to one-million Iraqis have already died thanks to our trumped-up invasion of a sovereign state.

According to the ads in today's New York Times, will memorialize them via the following: "The Great Sandal Sale," "The Big Brown Bag Sale," the "Free Chaise Event," the "Memorial Day Weekend Event," and "Hot Deals 4 U."

The pusillanimous and hypocritical Bush-Cheney Junta censors the images we see of carnage. The complicit news media prefers or conspires to air gossip, jiggle, smut and trivia. Please take a moment to read the thoughts of Pulitzer-winner Timothy Egan:

In his NYTimes article titled "The Invisible War," Egan points out the following facts:

*This war has lasted longer than any other American war save Viet-Nam.

*The war will cost us more than $3 trillion. More than any war but WW2. More than double the cost (inflation adjusted) of WW1 and ten-times the cost of the first Gulf War.

*President Bush has sacrificed by giving up playing golf during the war. “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he said last week. “And I think playing golf during a war sends the wrong signal.”

*In a Veteran's Administration email,subject line "Shh!" (I am not making this up) a top official asked: “Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see,” Katz wrote, in a note not meant for the general public. “Is this something we should address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles upon it?”

It goes on an on.

Go buy some sandals and have a barbecue.

PS. The photo above is a mosaic of our Leader made up of photos of a small bits of a small bit of our war dead.

"Let me put on my client hat for a second."

Next time you're at work and you hear someone utter that banal phrase, I suggest you say the following:

Account Person: "Let me put on my client hat for a second."

You: "No. I'd rather you put on your client bra and panties."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Do you know anyone who drives a Pontiac?

Lately, I've been seeing a fair amount of advertising online for Pontiac and, I think it was yesterday, though it seems like a month ago, I read an article about Jimmy Kimmel doing a live Pontiac spot.

Does this make any sense? Ads for Pontiac remind me of the Mark Twain apocrypha, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." In other words, Pontiac ads can only inform the viewer that the Pontiac brand is still in existence. But the brand itself is so far gone, no ad, no matter how good, is capable of resuscitating it--and the ads are far from compelling.

Here's some data for you: "Bloomberg is reporting that Pontiac sales could fall to just 250,000 units annually, and the GM brand might drop as many as 4 products. Pontiac was once the No. 3 nameplate in the nation, behind Ford and Chevy. In 2006, it ranked No. 13 behind Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Honda, Dodge, Nissan, Chrysler, Jeep, GMC and Hyundai." It is probably even worse off now that it's 2008.

So some questions:
Do you know anyone who drives one (except as a rental.)
Do you know anyone who wants one.
Do you know anyone who turns their head to look at one.
Do you know anyone who knows what a Pontiac is.

Someone, somehow needs to create BL* for Pontiac.
Or GM should just pull the plug on it.

*BL--believable lust.

Learnings from my offsite.

Whatever they are, we need to cascade them through the organization so as to create a robust roadmap.

Now, thanks to a pre-mature infatuation I had with Perry Mason as a youth, my stenographic transcription of my 96-hours of meetings which were spread over just two days, in the form of an ee cummings poem:

Roadmap ramp-up cascade
robust roadmap roadmap brilliant
ramp-up vet vet vet ramp-up robust roadmap.

Success roadmap competition
Crispin roadmap ramp-up robust vet Goodby roadmap robust Crispin vet ramp-up roadmap

New business ramp-up roadmap cascade ramp-up roadmap robust
Goodby Crispin Crispin roadmap ramp-up cascade vet.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I am stupid.

I suppose I'm fairly successful but no where nearly as successful as a lot of people. I can only conclude it's because I am stupid.

I cannot utter inanities like an ex-boss of mine just did with his smarmy confidence and faux British accent: "If this were a subset of Agency Name, it wouldn't create focus for what's a collaborative model."

I don't get that.

I am also too stupid to understand an agency that trumpets this as a mission: "Agency Name to Produce Ideas for Brands and Manage Distribution Strategies."

I thought ideas needed to be created not just produced. But then, I don't work at that agency any more.

I am brilliant.

I spent the last 24-hours and will spend the next 12 at yet another offsite. This time in the "city of broad-shoulders, the hog butcher to the world" as Carl Sandburg called Chicago. All well and good, and nice people too--genial, affable, intelligent, etc.

So why do I feel like filling an old sock with quarters and batting people to death with it? Why? Because I am with an English Creative Director who is driving me mad.

ME: I'll be back in a sec, I have to go pee.
HER: Brilliant!

ME: The hotel is just a few blocks from the office.
HER: Brilliant!

ME: Not a great deal of ventilation in this conference room. Let's open the door.
HER: Brilliant!

Brits usually sound smart. I guess because American's you know, like, you know, kinda, you know, you follow, you know, like, I mean, sound so dumb.

But, lady, get a Roget's already.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Almost seven years after 9/11.

After maybe a billion-dollars spent on "Homeland Security," and half-a-trillion-dollars on the so-called GWOT--Global War on Terror, airport security remains an affront. Surly, un-trained, low-wage workers, never making eye-contact (the most effective form of surveillance--ask any Israeli.) Almost seven-years-later we still have temporary tables. Filth. We still scan three-year-olds. Confiscate bottled water. And make people take off their shoes

Election poem.

I do not care about the war.
Global warming I find a bore.
Do I care if polar bears perish?
Our Christian values are what I cherish.

Let everyone go buy a weapon,
No waiting time, just let them, let them,
Forget about the price of fuel,
Or overcrowding in our school,
These are not important facts,
Our sanctity is now attacked.

Something's bad, it's all quite rotten,
And no, I don't mean O. Bin-Laden.
The issue that keeps me up at night,
Is gay men who assert the right,
To join themselves with Holy vows,
And thus they mock our sacred cows.
Would Jesus deign to tolerate,
This deep assault upon our state?

Will they kiss and then hold hands?
Watch morals vanish from our lands.
Forget all else, what hath god wrought
Can we withstand this gay assault?
Vote for me election day
Land of the free, but not the gay.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Las cucarachas entran, pero no pueden salir."

If you were a New York City subway rider in the 1980s, you were able to learn a fair amount of Spanish by virtue of osmosis.

The title above was the Spanish translation of Roach Motel's tagline: "The roaches check in but they don't check out."

Roaches notwithstanding, I've always used that line as a way of describing agency and client infrastructure and routines that seem as pernicious and ubiquitous as roaches. The fat-ass suit who fails further upwards every eighteen months. The account team that is working so hard they never seem to go home but they never produce either a workable brief or, much less, a decent ad. The creative teams that complain, complain, complain, but either don't move on or don't show any ingenuity. Agency management that claims they want to be a hot creative shop but then wind up pitching accounts that suck out loud and have always sucked out loud.

Those are the roaches we live with. They've checked in. Unless you bring a flame-thrower, they will never check out.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A commentary on corporate America.

The painting above is by Lucien Freud.
It recently sold for $33,641,000. As such, it is the highest-priced painting ever by a living painter.

It is titled: Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.

That makes me laugh.

Maybe I was too harsh.

Recently I lampooned the name Synarchy. And perhaps that wasn't fair. As a name, Synarchy is not nearly as dumb as appending the word "Action" to a once great agency brand-name. As in Ogglebee Action.

Nothing in and of itself is wrong with the word Action.
What is wrong is what it makes me think of the rest of Ogglebee.
Are they "In-action"?

Ogglebee Lassitude?
Ogglebee Inertia?
Ogglebee Masturbation?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gulag Americana.

Your tax dollars, sixty-million of them, are being used, according to The New York Times, to "build a complex of 6 to 10 semi-permanent structures (how is a structure semi-permanent? WTF does that mean) resembling Quonset huts, each the size of a football field, a Defense Department official said." Add these football-field sized human cages to our cages in Cuba and Iraq and who knows where else the CIA has people secreted away, and you have an international gulag.

I am not being melodramatic.

Naomi Wolf, in her seminal work on the rise of American Fascism, "The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot," puts the creation of a gulag as step two in the ten steps that fascists from Hitler to Pinochet follow as they create and propagate their tyranny.

By the way, in the US, we have an incarceration rate of 724 people per 100,000 population. Cuba--our oppressive anti-democratic neighbor incarcerates just 487/100,000. South Africa the baldly racist apartheid state, 344/100,000. Even in drug-riven Mexico it's only 191/100,000 and in neo-Czarist, KGB-led Russia it's just 581/100,000. Here in freedom-loving, flag waving, Liberty-bell ringing Amerika, nearly 1% of all men are in prison, a staggering 8% of all black men between the ages of 25-29 are behind bars.

Gulag Americana.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Something is terribly wrong.

I worry. I worry about our future. I worry about our country. I worry about the world. I don't know how many millions of people get their news from Yahoo! But this is their news homepage as of about 8:45 tonight.

America's top tourist destinations.
Something about an auto race.
A sprinter with artificial limbs.
All more important than 78,000 dead in Myanmar.

I worry about us.

Don't I have the right to a gay marriage?

Mine has been a bit somber of late.

A new god in the pantheon of dumb names.

I've waited more than 24-hours but I still can't stop thinking about the new name of the new agency formed by Wire Paper and Plastic (WPP) to serve Dell globally. The agency's name is Synarchy.

Thus, Synarchy is the esteemed winner of only the second "Worstie" that Ad Aged has awarded.

Even within the padded walls of corporate WPP the response to this name (which sounds like a neologism of sin and anarchy--not usually a good combination unless you're in the orgy business or presiding over the fall of Rome)has been less than affirming. Ad Age reported "If Synarchy doesn't work out, DaVinci will have to turn to a list of other monikers that appear to be have been batted around. Among them: "Sector 64," likely a nod to computing history and 64-bit processors; and "Refute," which, obviously means to disprove or counter. Both of those names were also filed earlier this year with the Trademark Office by WPP Properties Young & Rubicam Inc."

This is how you name something? With such little confidence that you assert there's a possibility of it not working out?

For the folks at Synarchy, WPP, Y&R and Landor (who led the naming effort) here are a few of my suggestions for your consideration:

Sorrell's Corral.
The Marketer in the Dell.
Go to Dell.
No No CEO.
And so as to appear modern and inexplicable--a word I've coined that combines "empathy" with "temptation," two emotions most advertisers would like to appeal to:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ad Aged endorses.

Since all our politicians seem to care about are focus groups, pandering to special interests, lobbyists, PACs, fat-cats and public opinion polls, there's really only one candidate to throw Ad Aged's considerable influence behind. Vote early. Vote often. Vote uninformed.

We need originality.

If a product or service drapes itself in nothing but cliches, can you really believe in it? The same, for me, goes with candidates. So far, no one, no one, has shown that she or he is not listening to the spurious tyranny of opinion polls or the specious edicts of focus groups. Hillary, in West Virginia, put on a Jed Clampett accent. Barack is a wisp in the wind. McCain has a head and a mind like a tether ball.

We need movies, tv shows, music, products and politicians that are people, not amalgamations of research and tested and proven. In other words people or things with genuine opinions and,heaven forfend, passionate belief.

This is for clients too. If you try to please everyone, you please no one. If you eliminate your gut and soul, you eliminate life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I spoke to a neuroscientist today.

That's not a joke. I spoke to someone who studies brains for a living. She told me that researchers in the late 1960s discovered that humans are born with the capacity to approach challenges in four primary ways: analytically, procedurally, relationally (or collaboratively) and innovatively. At puberty, however, the brain shuts down half of that capacity, preserving only those modes of thought that have seemed most valuable during the first decade or so of life.

Now here's the cool part: people surround themselves with those who think like they do. So analytics beget analytics. Procedurals beget procedurals. (That's why MBAs hire MBAs.) Now here's the thing. Most people also seek out those who complement their skills--but because those complementary skills are deemed alien or threatening, people with those skills are marginalized. (I know. I was the ECD at Digitas!)

So an analytical client may seek out an agency rife with innovatives, but chances are that same client will mitigate the influence of those innovatives by analyzing their output to death.

Not exactly cause for celebration but what is nowadays?

The "Little Bang" Theory.

Unless you're a reality-denying creationist, even without knowing exactly what it is, you probably, at some germinal level, subscribe to the Big Bang Theory. That is, the cosmological set-piece that asserts that billions of years ago all of the matter and energy in the universe was initially found in a very small space. An explosion happened which caused the universe to begin expanding.

The "Little Bang" Theory is the obverse and is usually subscribed to by marketing people and their agencies. They believe that just creating a message is enough. That a little bang, i.e. a spot running on a show like "World's Largest Nostrils," or your print ad in "Cooking Light" is enough. In fact, since most clients and agencies subscribe to th philosophy of "Fly low, fly slow and try not to crash," they are actually loathe to anything but the Little Bang.

The Little Bang is tantamount to throwing your money away. It's hosting a party without sending out invitations. It's running a business without opening your doors. It's going to your prom but not taking off your dress.

If you think about prominent brands, Crispin, Madonna, Apple, Iran--they never do anything small. They are Big Bang brands. They start with intense density and heat (an idea)and explode it and thus diseminate it outward (intrusive, innovative media.) Most everyone else does the opposite.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Daddy, what's TV?"

"Well, junior, there was a time when people watched entertainment on a box and they could only watch it when executives told them they could. Further every seven minutes or so, that entertainment was interrupted by crass blandishments to buy some garbage. That was TV, sonny."

"Oh, Daddy, I wish you'd just give me a straight answer sometime."

In advertising we talk incessantly about TV commercials. We celebrate them with awards and lavish upon them praise as if they were worthy of a Nobel Prize. Super Bowl spots are going for close to three million dollars for a thirty.

Yet CMOs are turning over faster than rooms in a hot-sheet trucker motel.

Could it be that no one is watching TV anymore? That according to the NYTimes, in one year six-million prime time viewers have disappeared? Read the comments found in the link below. I realize NYTimes readers are a rarefied lot but they can't be alone in their abandonment of our Generalized Drivel Disorder.

Jenna Bush and her ample tush.

I ducked as I exited Chopper IV in Crawford and slid into the waiting leather of my limo. I straightened my bow tie, and whisked a small smudge off my tuxedo shoes. Sharon Stone seated next to me shivered in the unseasonably cool Texas weather and sidled closer. She snuggled up to me, nuzzling her head on my shoulder. "Thanks for having me," I murmured. It was her invite that had me on the guest list at Jenna's wedding.

Well, let me just say this about the wedding itself: They didn't stint. Laura and George were beaming and,like Babs and Poppy, seemed sober enough to actually be cognizant of where they were (though Poppy smelt like he had spent the night as an olive swimming in a giant martini.)

Jenna looked ravishing though it was obvious to me she had (once again) forgone panties--she won't be a Victoria's Secret spokesmodel anytime soon, believe you me. And who wears panties under their de la Renta gown these days anyway?

While "Hank" was snorting cocaine in the Bush family restroom, I took the pantyless Jenna for a spin on the dance floor. She cooed in my direction and said to me, "I want you to fuck me like a sailor on shore leave." I furtively squeezed her well-worn bosom. "I need me a good Semite schtup. A good Jew-boy poking." "Who doesn't?" was my characteristically laconic riposte. Minutes later after Jenna screamed (a bit too loudly for my liking) "Mission Accomplished," she staggered out of the coat room, her place taken by the catatonic Laura. "Give me your 'Axis of Evil,'" she demanded and seconds later she exhaustedly exhaled, "Heckuva job, Georgie. Heckuva job." I zipped up and skedaddled before the possibility of Babs' wanting a quick "spin" for old-time's sake.

Back on the dance floor again with Jenna whom I couldn't shake. She whispered in my ear that, confidentially, she was working on getting my Secret Service nickname changed to"Air Fuck One," but with that, Sharon cut in and Hank finally stumbled out of Casa Cocaine to assume the position.

What a gal! What a wedding! What a night.

Exit strategy.

When I can't sleep at night. And why.

If you take a minute and think about it, life comes down to letting go. People, your friends, your psychiatrist, your colleagues tell you to "let it go." Something bothers you, "Let it go, man, there's nothing you can do about it." The government spends more in a month on uranium depleted ammunition than they do in a year on education, "Let it go." People who make $7 an hour are allowed to trample your constitutional rights by willy-nilly going through you luggage, looking at the books you read, confiscating your toothpaste, "Let it go." A boss makes sure you never get a raise or a promotion because your drive and talent threaten him, "Let it go." Just let it go. Don't let it bother you. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go.

But being good in life, being good in advertising, being true to yourself, having integrity is about not letting go. It's about fighting for what you believe in. It's about being an obstinate son of a bitch. I don't mean it's not about listening or being adaptable or hearing another point of view. (Bill Bernbach carried around a card with him that read, "Maybe he's right") but it is about sticking to your guns once you've made up your mind and being bull-headed and relentless.

Or as Namesake Bernard Shaw put it:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

When I can't sleep at night it's most often because of the Procrustean bed I am bid to lay in. In Greek mythology, Procrustes was a robber of Attica who tied his victims to a bed and adjusted them to its length by amputating their legs or stretching their bodies. He was killed by the hero Theseus. In other words, a Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.

No wonder I'm restless.

Sleep tight.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jet Blue's new campaign.

Everything about JWT's new "Jetting" campaign repels me. It's clever all right. Almost as clever as the Virgin Atlantic campaign that preceded it by about five years. Jet Blue copies that campaign in just about every way imaginable. It seems the only way they livened up "Go Jet Set Go," in fact, is that they changed Virgin's red to Jet Blue's blue.

Almost fifty years ago, when Avis made hay by triumphantly proclaiming itself #2, Carl Ally, the agency for Hertz ran an ad that did not merely copy the tone of Avis'. It said: “We have a competitor who says he’s No. 2. That’s hard to argue with.”

In other words, they fought originality with obstinance and originality. Not just me-too-ism.


TEOTWAWKI stands for "the end of the world as we know it." Yes, it's a cult of survivalists, conspiracy-theorists, and George-acolytes. No point about anything except that it's mother's day, and if you knew my mother you'd understand that this is the way my mind works.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My philosphy with thanks to Samuel Goldwyn.

You've got to take the bitter with the sour.

Why does this remind me of agency life? And almost all else?

Just over 50 years ago, the great Billy Wilder collaborated on the screenplay for and directed Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power in "Witness for the Prosecution." My guess is you'd be better served watching it than "Speed Racer," "What Happens in Vegas," or nearly any other of the current blights on our already blighted "culture."

Here are one minute and four seconds of dialogue that is perfectly fresh yet shockingly quotidian.
If you prefer, here is a link to the clip, pay special attention of Laughton's eyes at the very end of the clip. You will not see a better performance anywhere:

Sir Wilfrid (LAUGHTON): Mrs Vole. Or Mrs Helm; which do you prefer to be called?

Helm (DIETRICH): It does not matter.

Sir Wilfrid: Does it not? In this country, we are inclined to take a rather more serious view of marriage. However, frau Helm, it would appear that when you first met the prisoner in Hamburg, you lied to him about your marital status?

Helm: I wanted to get out of Germany, so—

Sir Wilfrid: You lied, did you not? Just yes or no, please.

Helm: Yes.

Sir Wilfrid: Thank you. And subsequently, in arranging the marriage, you lied to the authorities?

Helm: I, um, did not tell the truth to the authorities.

Sir Wilfrid: You lied to them?

Helm: Yes.

Sir Wilfrid: And in the ceremony of marriage itself, when you swore to love and to honor and to cherish your husband, that, too, was a lie?

Helm: Yes.

Sir Wilfrid: And when the police questioned you about this wretched man who believed himself married and loved, you told them—

Helm: I told them what Leonard wanted me to say.

Sir Wilfrid: You told them that he was at home with you at 25 minutes past 9, and now you say that that was a lie? [beginning to chuckle now]

Helm: Yes, a lie!

Sir Wilfrid: And when you said that he had accidentally cut his wrist, again, you lied? [chuckling again]

Helm: Yes!

Sir Wilfrid: [chuckling further] And now today you've told us a new story entirely! [serious now] The question is, frau Helm, were you lying then, are you lying now, or are you not in fact a chronic and habitual LIAR?!

A unicorn on a cattle ranch.

I'm just going to do this once, so listen up.
Good agencies, good social organizations, good relationships
adjust themselves around the people involved. Bad agencies,
bad social organizations, bad relationships expect you to
change for them.

Another way of looking at this.
Think of your classic bell curve.
If you are on the far right or even on the right-hand downslope,
there is something called regression to the mean. You are hired
because you are on the far right, and then the organization tries
to move you to the center. Makes the organization comfortable.

Clients do the same thing.
They hire agencies for their innovation.
Then move them to sameness.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The next killer app.

When I was living on the Silicon Coast, I was fortunate enough to become fast friends with a brilliant computer scientist, I will, for the purposes of the post, refer to only as X. (The word brilliant—especially amongst Anglophiles is greatly overused. Many are called, X is chosen. His IQ, my guess, is in the 200s. I’ve actually seen him read two books simultaneously while speaking on the phone. In short, X possesses abilities that make Steven Hawking look like George W. Bush.)

Despite, or because of, his brilliance, X had washed out of all the West Coast tech companies—too innovative, too unbridled, too non-conventional, too experimental. Too willing and too able to say “fuck off” to a Jobs or a Gates.

About two weeks ago, I mentioned to X that I had a trip to Sao Paulo in the near future. “Sao Paulo?” he said. “I will send you something overnight delivery that will make your trip infinitely better.” The next day, a small apparatus arrived via FedEx. I followed X’s instructions and in short order molded the plastic a small chip was imbedded into to the upper part of my mouth. It fit well, like an orthodontic appliance.

I called X to explain—I could discern no functionality (though my teeth could use a little straightening.) “I call it “Zip Lip,” said X. “It instantaneously translates your spoken words into whatever language I program it to.”

Almost inconceivably, the device works. Even more inconceivably , it translates the words it “hears” (in its pre-programmed language) into your native tongue. So while my colleagues have been struggling to mince out the occasional “Obrigado,” I have been enjoying—reveling in, actually, my fluency.

“X,” I said when I called him again, “this is shocking.” X only laughed. “Just wait,” he said, “Just wait.”

“Zip Lip.” Remember the name. The new “killer app.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Force of habit.

In the last fifty months I have done time at five different agencies. Besides complaining about clients, the thing all those agencies have in common is that they spend a lot of time thinking about change, as in how they must change if they are going to survive and thrive.

The problem with change is that there is a huge lacuna between knowing you need to change and actually changing. Which is why most people and most agencies do a good deal of talking about change but damn little time actually changing.

Today, I read this article in the NY Times which asks a simple question, "Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?"

“Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd,” William Wordsworth said in the 19th century. The unreflecting herd is who 99% of all people, clients, agencies, creatives and account people are. In military parlance, we fight the last war.

According to the Times, "Researchers in the late 1960s discovered that humans are born with the capacity to approach challenges in four primary ways: analytically, procedurally, relationally (or collaboratively) and innovatively. At puberty, however, the brain shuts down half of that capacity, preserving only those modes of thought that have seemed most valuable during the first decade or so of life...meaning that few of us inherently use our innovative and collaborative modes of thought."

In other words, we got out of the habit of innovation and got into the habit of analyzing. Which is why people, clients and ad agencies have such a difficult time changing.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind." “But we are taught instead to 'decide.' However, “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”

That's our job. To explore possibilities.

From Tallulah Bankhead.

It was a gentler world fifty years ago when Norman Mailer wrote his famous book, "The Naked and the Dead." You couldn't say the word 'fuck' in print. So in his book, he used the word 'fug' instead.

One evening at a party, Mailer met the legendary legend Tallulah Bankhead, who said to him "You're the young man that doesn't know how to spell fuck."

I say this amid a torrent of passionately fuck-laced exhortations about doing better work.

Actually pretty fucking inspiring.

Report from the offsite.

The line of the day, thus far:

"You go up to the 28th floor at _____________, and it smells like overhead."

Everyone laughed except the:
Chief Risk Officer
Chief Diversity Officer
Chief Integration Officer
Chief Communications Officer
Global Head of Global Heads
Chief People Officer
Chief Administrative Officer
Chief Mobility Officer
Chief Enablement Officer
Chief Powerpoint Officer

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Everything is on a slant.

After 13 hours on a Delta flight, 13 hours surrounded by the world's ugliest "branding" (branding should be distinct and ownable, yes, but it has no value if it is distinct, ownable and putrid). 13 hours where the logo slants upwards off the page. 13 hours where the type is on an angle. I have a pain in my neck (from slanting upwards) and a hole in my soul. Ugly is as ugly does and this is an airline that's surrounded itself with ugliness.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Can you hear it?

The death rattle of TV, I mean.

I overheard this conversation in the Crown Room at JFK airport.

Two twenty-something guys talking. One says to the other: "I don’t know why they call them TV shows. I never watch them on TV."

Off to Brazil.

I am off this evening to Brazil, the only country extant to have been named after a legume, specifically, the Brazil nut. Prior to WWII, there was a small Slavic country named Hazeltonia, which was named after the Hazel nut, but that star-crossed nation was absorbed into what today is known as Latvia.

When Vasco Da Gama discovered Brazil, the nation had no name. The indigenous people were too busily engaged in ritual cannibalism to bother with a name. In fact, Da Gama originally thought to call the land "Burp," after the sound the Amerinds made having eaten a rival. Fortunately while on an in-land raping expedition through the dense jungle, Da Gama discovered what he had gone searching for--the rare and highly-prized Brazil nut. Thus the country we now know as Brazil.

Today the county is best known for bossa nova music, venereal disease, a type of body waxing and thong bikinis.


A few words on interaction design.

There are those in the digital end of the advertising industry who believe in a Ptolemaic way that the web universe revolves around interaction design, ie. if things are easy to navigate (why navigate? are we at sea? it's more of the b.s. of the web lexicon) that's all that's important to consumers.

Given that digital agencies are populated by people who don't speak English (they use phrases like interaction design as opposed to 'making it easy to shop') and that clients who buy web advertising usually are digitally-challenged, the technophiles at these web agencies have developed a language that mystifies and seeks to remove common sense and humanity from what they do and reduce it instead to a science. That's how they hold onto their jobs.

I mean, wtf does this mean? (I pulled it from an Adweek column this morning.) "Ubiquity. We are living in a fragmented world with what seems like infinite touch points available to us. Brands and businesses that can distribute value across these endless touch points in effective ways will tap into new markets and solidify existing ones. Because some of us are interacting through multiple social channels, we can now find people just like ourselves who we trust and see what they like and dislike. This influences our decisions, from the stuff we buy to the things we recommend to each other. The best marketing in the world tries to simulate this, but usually ends up coming off as contrived. Meaningful interactions through multiple networks and channels lead to authentic word-of-mouth references and, ultimately, affinity."

If you want to learn about interaction design, walk over to an Apple store. That's all you need to know. It's easy to find what you want, easy to get help, easy to accessorize and upsell your self, easy to pay. And the Apple store does all that while delivering a pre-eminent brand experience.

There are all sorts of ways rattling around out there to rationalize not having an intrusive, service-delivering advertising idea. We can logic our way into the efficacy of nearly anything. But none of this matters if people aren't interested in what your brand or in what you're selling.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Have you failed lately?

There are two ways to fail.
1. You can fail due to your lack of ambition.
2. You can fail because you don't quite achieve your ambition.

Number 1 is a sin against your brain.
Number 2 is a virtue.

Or, as the great film director Ernst Lubitsch put it: "I sometimes make pictures which are not up to my standard, but then it can only be said of a mediocrity that all his work is up to his standard."

Or, as Samuel Beckett put it, "Fail, fail, fail again better."

Our business is not about best practices and how did we do it last time. Our business is meant to be about getting noticed, being heard. You can't move and influence, inspire and motivate if you are bland and invisible.

Even Leo Burnett understood this: "When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either."

All human progress comes from the embrace of failure.

All our mediocre politicians today are motivated by fear of failure. They say and do nothing, lest they offend.

Fail. And succeed.

Friday, May 2, 2008

P.S. We are fighting in two wars.

The New York Daily News and the New York Post, the 7th and 11th largest circulation newspapers in the nation have front page headlines about Uma Thurman this morning.

Last month in Iraq, more American soldiers died than any time since September, 2007--a total of 46. The death to casualty ratio in this war has run at about 1:9--so about 400 American boys were wounded. These aren't playground scrapes and bruises, these are missing limbs and eyes.

I cannot even find information about our war in Afghanistan (a nation no one--not Alexander, not the Romans, not the Ottomans, not the British, not the Russians) have ever subdued. They want to grow their poppies, fuck their yaks and be left in peace.

Here are some things to think about they may be more important than Uma Thurman.

Eight Pre-War Claims Refuted:

• No weapons of mass destruction of any kind were found in Iraq.

• No mobile biological weapons labs were found in Iraq.

• Iraq did not seek to acquire yellowcake uranium from Africa.

• The aluminum tubes were not suitable for nuclear weapons development.

• Mohamed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, did not meet with Iraqi intelligence in Prague.

• Iraq did not provide chemical weapons training to al-Qaeda.

• There was no collaborative relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

• The implication that Iraq was involved in the attacks of 9/11 was untrue.

The Costs of War:

• After four years, the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has brought with it more than 100,000 civilian and military deaths.

• Millions of Iraqis have been displaced from their homes. Nearly 2,000,000 have fled the country.

• Untold numbers of people have been mentally and physically wounded.

• War expenditures have exceeded $500 billion.