Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The joys of blogging.

I am a writer--consigned to advertising, but a writer nonetheless. As the year comes to a close, I have done what writers are meant to do: I have written--on deadline--virtually everyday this entire year--over 600 blog entries and a fair bit of copy.

If you're reading this--this inconsequential entry--thanks. And Happy fucking new year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

This explains a lot.

I'm reading now a book called "Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration" by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Basically (I love when historians bring order to the world with one giant, cosmic bolt of clarity) humanity has searched for diversity since its very beginnings. We've looked for different people to co-join with, to trade with, to profit from, to procreate with. This has been the force that through green fuse drives the flower.

It's easy for us in Plastic-land to see increasing homogeneity. In fact, contrary to how we may feel when we are barraged by an onslaught of processed everything, we likely have a greater fecundity of trade, thought and chromosomes than in any time in human history.

OK, no real point here. Or maybe a bit of life affirmation from a misanthrope of the highest order. Today, if you need to know when Bogart was born, how old Bacall was when they married, what the word vitiate means or do you suck the venom from a cobra bite before or after dousing the wound in milk, that information is virtually at your fingertips. I suppose that access to a diversity of information and in a sense culture that is unparalleled in human history. That's amazing.

(Bogart was born in 1899--he died at 57. Bacall was 21 when they married, he was 45. Vitiate means to make faulty or defective. And suck out the venom first, rinse your mouth with milk and be sure to spit.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

34 years ago, I rebelled.

And inn a fit of pique--in a rage against the machine, I left the US and joined the Nicaraguan navy, which was liberal and progressive at the time (being dominated by Ortega's people._ Right now, I am down for my annual two-weeks of training. Posts will be sporadic until my return.

--Catp. (reserves) Jorge "El Toro" Tannenbaum

Thursday, December 25, 2008

This is from Arthur Miller.

My introduction to Arthur Miller was a little red paperback that had four or five of his plays in it, including "Death of a Salesman," "The Crucible," "All My Sons," and something I've forgotten. It also had a poem as kind of a coda at the end of the volume that I've never forgotten.

by Arthur Miller
They meet for purchase or sale
and to trace their bounds through rosebushes.
There is a catechism: What's your name, what
do you do, how do you feel, and where you from?
Like people on a perpetual cruise, and the dead
go overboard into a lawn. It's a deck,
part of which is always on fire.
Anything inconsequential makes them serious.
Some teach parakeets to climb ladders; they also
have Malted Milk Specialists.
Tragedy is when you lose your boat.
Life is a preparation for retirement.
The sun is good for business.
Al Jolson left a trust fund which pays
to floodlight his tomb at night forever;
even in death a man should have bills.
The second-largest industry is sporting goods.
To succeed as a woman you have to have a car.
California is Christianity plus the conveniences.
Driving from town to town one wonders what will
happen if neon gas ever runs out; some may
have to learn to read paint.
When a man admits failure he becomes a pedestrian.
Brotherhood is when two men have the same mother.
Sacrifice is a car sold at a ridiculous price.
Society is when people listen to classical music;
or a Savings & Loan.
Law is order, Justice a decent return on money.
Progress is anything turning on and off by itself.
Beauty is teeth, deep skill, and the willingness.
Freedom is the right to live among your own kind.
A philosophy is a keen sense of land values
and the patience to wait.
War is peace waged by other means .
They know they are the Future.
They are exceedingly well-armed.

I wonder.

Alas, a true lover of mankind, I am not. But as I fly through LaGuardia and then Atlanta/Hartsfield I wonder if Mother Teresa, St. Francis Assisi or, even, Mr. Rogers could make it through a day in "Economy" without rage.

Let's start with the "Breezeway," the name Delta's chosen for its unmoving line onto their aging jets. My row had no window--evidence that they jammed more seats in the vessel than originally intended and I could not cross my legs. My knees were flush against the seat in front of me.

On the PA system, they piped in the sounds of crying babies--if only to muffle the sounds of crying babies. The pilot took delight in calling terminal T terminal "tango." Do you tango? I don't and would have preferred T as in Terpsichore.

Now I sit in a processed food court that is lit brighter than the surface of the sun, the smell of refried grease permeating the refried people. The Cashew chicken is back at Panda Express. I hadn't known it ever left. My daughter says, "We could sit at Friday's but then we'd be sitting at Friday's."

Is this America today, I wonder, where everything feels processed, synthetic, cheap,run down, of low-quality. The staggering thing, I think is that amid all our choices, there are really no choices. What rotten airline do you want to fly, what lousy airport do you want to connect through, what lousy food do you want to eat, what mediocre candidates (or at least candidates who pander to the lowest common denominator) will you vote for?

Sallow black men in prison-style pants down around their knees sweep lazily pushing big grey petrochemical buckets and jawing with one another. Everyone, everyone seems to have latex gloves on, why? Is there still phantom anthrax in the air or is it AIDS or is it petrochemical companies adding yet another billion to their coffers?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Off to Mexico. But first, a one-liner.

What kind of defense does a Mexican basketball team play?

Is 3-time Pulitzer-winner Thomas Friedman an Ad Aged reader?

This is from his column today--19 months after I drew the analogy. (In fairness to Tom, I was writing micro and he is macro.)

"For all these reasons, our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A moodle. (My mood + a doodle.)

A bit more on creative productivity.

If you read books about geniuses you learn that often times they work spasmodically--and in ways that defy, or baffle, or perplex the great timesheet police that now seem to run the world.

One such creative genius was Albert Einstein. When he worked as an obscure clerk in the Swiss Patent Office from out of nowhere wrote in less than a year five papers that went on to become his General Theory of Relativity.

But for the purposes of this post I'll focus on Preston Sturges. Sturges wrote and directed seven hits, seven classics in four years--an output that I can't imagine will ever be matched. Four of the movies listed here made the AFI's roster of top 100 American Comedies. I've double starred those.

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
**The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)
**The Palm Beach Story (1942)
**Sullivan's Travels (1941)
**The Lady Eve (1941)
Christmas in July (1940)
The Great McGinty (1940)

Now, finally, I get to my point. Sturges was notorious for working his own way. He rehearsed like mad and didn't start shooting until he loved what he saw. Then he'd shoot one take, maybe two. That's not the way films were shot. So when the studio producers saw that Sturges had been shooting for a week and had less than a minute of film to show for it, they went nuts. Sturges was wildly productive--he just shot when he felt ready to shoot.

I'm no genius--far from it, but personally, I am the same way. My least productive hours are the ones I spend in the office. My best ideas and my tonnage ideas all come when I am walking the dog, or taking a shower or walking the dog in the shower. How do you put that on a timesheet?

We will be bludgeoned this year with the false imprecation to work longer--the unappreciative will equate hours with your arse implanted at your desk with productivity. If this creative browbeating persists hours in the office will rise. Productivity, at least mine, will plummet.

Faster! Cheaper! Faster! Cheaper!

As we sink deeper and deeper into our economic come-uppance we will endure more and more assaults on workers--how they're over-paid, lazy and laden with benefits (like healthcare) that only the Lords of the manor deserve. (It was ever thus, by the way. I recently read a book called "The Black Death: A Personal History" by John Hatcher. After the plague wiped out 30%-70% of the population, demand for manure-shovellers and the like outstripped supply, driving wages up. Of course, the Lords petitioned the King and their fellow Lords and won the right to limit wages. But I digress, as usual.)

My experience is that the workers are not revolting--they're productive, or at least they're somewhat productive. Unfortunately the systems of most agencies--the second-guessing, the approval by committee, the endless meetings about the work, are what really inhibit productivity.

I do a goodly amount of freelance with similarly-tenured art directors, you know, Old Guys. Almost invariably, no, invariably, we sit together for eight hours or so and create 18 ads. Then we go home. They finesse layouts and I write a dozen or so pieces of copy. All of this is done in 24 hours and at an admirable qualitative level.

It's easy to blame others for inefficiency. It's easy to demonize the workers. It's what the oligarchs always do, always have done, Ijust I don't buy it.

I gotta go.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Something the money people will never understand.

A little more than 60 years ago when Europe was war-torn and worse for wear, the great photojournalist Robert Capa and Ingrid Bergman fell in love. This photo was taken by Capa. The absurdity of a bathtub and Bergman in bombed-out Berlin.

Bergman wanted to marry Capa. But Capa knew that he would have to give up being a journalist were he to do so. He turned Ingrid down and continued traveling the world shooting wars. He died in Indo-China having stepped on a landmine at Thai Binh.

Money people will never understand creative people--people who would choose their creativity over, even, the allure of Bergman. No big point here. Just something to think about when you curse the gods.

Another client meeting.

I pulled the foam-core back from across the table and removed larger "level-setting" boards from the shelf that ringed my client's conference room. Slowly, methodically I began bagging the boards in the beat-up vinyl portfolio case.

"We were looking for something fiscally responsible but a little edgier," said one client,trying to sooth my feelings.

"We wanted the envelope pushed, but not pushed so far that you pushed it out of the box," said another.

"Edgy, yes," said the senior client in the room, "Edgy, but with rounded corners."

Slowly, surreptitiously I reached down below the conference room table, as if I were putting something into my bag. I removed my left Prada, popped up like Jack-in-the-box and threw it at the client. Stunned and startled I did the same with my other size-16 before the CMO came into the room and I was sent, shoe-less, to copywriter Guantanamo.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Politically incorrect on as many levels as I can muster.

White Kwanzaa

I'm dreaming of a white Kwanzaa
Just like the ones I knew so good
Where the crack vials glisten
and children listen
To hear po-lice in the ‘hood.

I'm dreaming of a white Kwanzaa
With every Kwanzaa card I swipe
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Kwanzaas be white.

I'm dreaming of a white Kwanzaa
With every Kwanzaa card I swipe
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Kwanzaas be white.

And now, "White Christmas" as Irving Berlin originally wrote it,
in Yiddish:

Ikh kholem fun a vaysn yontef

Punkt vi in shtetl Bilgorey

Vu di beymer blishtshen

Un kinder kvitshen

Ven zey hulyen inem shney.

Ikh kholem fun a vaysn yontef

Ven ikh gedenk fun langer tzayt

Zol zayn simkhes un gute nayes

Un zol yontef brengen shneyen vays.

Class warfare.

We heard a fair amount during the Presidential campaign about class-warfare. Every time a candidate mentioned the need to tax the wealthy at a progressive rate, he (or she) was accused to engaging in some sort of Jacobin/Marxist murder-the-rich-in-their-sleep incitement. Mind you, according to some experts, the United States has the greatest disparity of wealth in its history--greater than what we faced during the depressions when 2% of the population held 60% of the wealth. (New data, according to the NY Times shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.)

Today I ran across an ad that was a real example of class-warfare. In a nation whose economy is suffering, where millions are out of work, where many haven't enough to eat and no money for health-care, I saw these items advertised by that pseudo-gentile Ralph Lauren.

An alligator lock collar for $295 (marked down from $495.) A "Holiday-plaid cashmere sweater," originally $195, sale price $119.

To be fair, these items are marked down. So I guess Ralph Lipschitz is doing his part.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dear Mr. Obama.

I just read that Bernard Madoff, who is under house-arrest in New York, is being guarded 24-hours a day by security guards paid for by his wife, Ruth.

I have a wish this holiday season, a wish I herewith forward to the Obama administration and to all state governments: Let's try to construct a system of equal justice for all. If Madoff has really liberated $50 billion from its original owners, he is probably bigger than the Mafia. Why a separate set of legal strictures for him and other celebrity felons. Why is he under house arrest on his 5th and 64th Street palace rather than Rikers?

Let's take back America.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's snowing in New York.

It's snowing like the end of time.
The office is empty of Jerseyites who left early to buy milk.
Only a few souls are left.
The Friday before Christmas.
I invited clients out to make snow angels
And no one showed.

Here are some pictures by Ruth Orkin.
It's snowing in New York.

This is either ironic or not.

I always liked this poem. As gloom descends over the world in an increasingly heavy cloak, I thought of it this morning.


by: Ernest Dowson

THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for awhile, then closes
Within a dream.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

As budgets become tighter think of Ingrid Bergman.

As the economic gloom spreads, as staffing becomes leaner, we will all be berated, scolded and otherwise brow-beaten. You must become more efficient. We will all have to work harder and faster.

I don't disagree that so much bullshit gets in the way of productivity. One morning many years ago a boss of mine held up a copy on The Wall Street Journal in one hand and The New York Times in the other.

He said, "Each day these start blank, and each day they publish and the quality is pretty good." He was right. By and large, there's too much carping and too little doing or, better, too many discussions about what needs to be done or about what has been done. And not enough doing.

However, just now I came across a quotation by Ingrid Bergman that reminds me that magic might just be sacrificed when productivity is king.

"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous."

Certain bits of creativity are products of serendipity, magic and luck. We can not force-produce them.

Kiss kiss.

Beware of Fearvertising.

Bad mood, again.

An all day management meeting where we spent a good amount of time being berated on all the things we did wrong in 2008 and all the things we must do right or do substantially better in 2009, or else.

Or else.
Or else.
Or else.

I leave that meeting and see a news alert from Advertising Age that Omnicom is laying off 5% of its staff world-wide--7,000 workers.

Be scared.
Be scared.
Be scared.

In short: "you're lucky if you have a job so stfu (shut the fuck up) and draw within the lines."

Listen, the best way to get fired is to behave. Is to be conservative. And to give them what they want.

Conformity is the enemy.
Fear will be your undoing.
Feeling trapped and thus compliant keeps the business bland.

No more lecturing today. I have a "Hot Pockets" viral video to work on.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's in a name?

With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, plenty is in a name when it comes to branding. We wouldn't be apt to buy a car called 'Rattle-trap.' And whereas "Olds" as in Oldsmobile might have been ok once (and eponymous) in today's youth culture, you don't keep a producing a product with that name. (I'm not claiming that's why there's no more Oldsmobile, but it sure didn't help.)

OK, let's cut ahead to the great 2008 Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff and those avaricious enough to believe in him. The man's name is pronounced "MADE OFF" as in "Bernie made off with your entire family fortune."

Greed blinded people. Obscured whatever would generally pass for common sense.

Listen, would you invest with someone called Ponzi today, no matter how manicured and secure he seemed? Would you go to a Harvard lawyer named Shyster? Would you by a steak from "Mad Cow Butchers"? So why an investment counselor called Madoff?

Blatant, unmitigated greed. Oh, and dumb-osity.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Every once in a while.

You see a headline that stops you. This from the NY Times.

First Face Transplant Performed in the U.S.

Surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic have performed a near-total face transplant on a woman, officials said.


I'm taking Thursday and Friday off for my face transplant consultation. It couldn't hurt.

Look! An epiphany.

I just had to run into an Apple store to pick-up a replacement for something that broke on my daughter's Mac Book. Get this, I'm not pissed. I'm actually looking forward to having a few down moments to browse.

Odd. Shopping for peripherals and I'm not annoyed? How different from life within a Best Buy.

I go to pay and I pull out my Apple ProCare card. "I don't save any money with this," I ask. The sales guy says, "No."

And here comes the epiphany. "Oh," I say, "You don't need a loyalty program. You have a loyalty product."

That, boys and girls, is a demonstration of what superior design and marketing can deliver to a business: a lower cost of actually doing business.

Some thoughts on language.

I am now reading a book by H.W. Brands called: "Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt."

As long-time readers of Ad Aged know, there are few things I appreciate more than a well-turned ankle and a well-turned phrase.

This morning I saw this headline on the way to work--amidst the greatest economic crisis in perhaps 50 years or more: "Isn't it time you were moved by your coffee maker."

Switching gears from that stupidity I recalled the opening lines of Roosevelt's first fireside chat. Note the compassion, clarity and conciseness of his words.

"I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking. I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be."

Gott in Himmel! Can you imagine the same words transmuted into a Bushian or Palinian palate? Can you imagine any words more 'breakthrough' than these in their directness and simplicity?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bettie Page, 1923-2008.

Years ago, I had the best run of my career when I was an ACD on the Gorton's Fish Sticks account. You can read one of my previous posts about working on that business right here: http://adaged.blogspot.com/search?q=bergman

But given the recent demise of the sultry sex-pot pin-up girl Bettie Page, I thought I'd write today about the Gorton's spot I shot with her.

My partner and I had spent about two weeks trying to beat the Bergman spot--and each time we showed a storyboard to my boss he'd exclaim, "Great Caesar's ghost! Go back to the well, dig deeper. This spot is good. But I'm looking for magic." The magic that had previously earned me and my partner a coveted Bronze Addy (Eastern Region)for the Bergman spot.

Finally, after yet another all-nighter, I think I blurted something like, "Uncovering a better Fish Stick." My partner heard that line and grabbed it like an all-pro line-backer going after a loose pigskin.

"Uncover! This is gold! We uncover, unveil, strip-down a Gorton's fish stick! We show Harriet Housewife that only the finest, meatiest fillets go into every Gorton's stick."

And who better to make that point than the finest, meatiest pin-up girl, Bettie Page?

We whipped out a board, contacted Page herself and the rest was fish stick history.
What a girl! What a catch! And another Addy to boot.

Advertising predictions, 1999.

Years ago, like thirty-five years ago, when America was hit with its first energy crisis, I remember walking across a parking lot in front of a Korvettes discount department store in Port Chester, NY.

"Dad," I asked, "when is Detroit going to make a car like the Japanese."
"Oh, they're not worried," he counseled."Imports will never make up more than 10% market share."

With that in mind, I thought I'd come up with some ad predictions from ten years ago.

*Writing about dot coms in 2000, "Robert J. Coen, senior vice president and forecasting director at Universal McCann" said, this about spending decline: "If two of these companies lose their ability to buy traditional media, 10 more can fly in to replace them."

*Among Adweek's "Shops to Watch" in their 10/18/1999 issue we find names like these--
Digital Pulp and Red Sky. Glad I sold my stock in those.

OK. Enough for now.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A great "ad."

This was done by friends of mine: Jeroen Bours, Tore Claesson of an agency called Hello Darling, shot by Patrik Andersson.
I love it.

Getting ahead in your career via exercise.

When I was just a wee bairn, I worked at an excellent agency that primarily did TV commercials. I was just a pup at the time and every time one of the big deals was out shooting a spot I raised my hand to do any and all print that might otherwise have gone to them.

Before long, I had the best book in the agency and the "power" to get better assignments.

So, the vigorous exercise of raising my hand and saying "I'll do it," I believe leads to getting ahead.

I still raise my hand today. And aside from the occasional piece of shit, it's a good habit.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On becoming Edward.

My wife just told me an anecdote that's likely happened to all of us. Someone, innocently enough, goes to the deli. The counter-guy, for whatever reasons, thinks he knows the customer's name and starts calling him Edward. Only Edward isn't the customer's name, but to the counter-guy the guy is Edward. Three times a week for the next couple of years the customer goes into the deli and is greeted with, "Hey, Edward, how goes it?" In the reality of the deli the customer is Edward.

There's a lesson in here about brands. How you are treated by a brand effects your perception of the brand. Different treatments by media only lead to confusion.

I'll start with a quote by Groucho.

Somewhat irrelevant, ok, but I've had a tough week. "Marriage is an institution, but who wants to live in an institution?"

Today, faithful readers, we will talk about institutions and institutionalization and the perversion institutionalization brings to the equation.

Let's start with the Catholic Church. It started with an idea. It started with simplicity and self-denial. Over time, you could argue, it grew into the mightiest religio-politico organization of all time, dominating the lives and thoughts of hundreds of millions and dozens of countries and principalities. It grew into perhaps the wealthiest institution of all time, engaged in, or turned a blind eye to evil on a small scale like simony, and evil on a large scale like the inquisition, the crusades and genocide that spread across at least two continents. It became an institution.

Switch now to Detroit. It started as a cauldron of innovation--from a technological, production and marketing point of view. Detroit did as much to change the world as the catholic church did. But then its institutional side kicked in. There mere size of the industry led to the replacement of innovators with bureaucrats. What was good for General Motors is good for the nation, people proclaimed. And so it all became about feeding the machine. Making more the measurement of better rather than better the measurement of better. The institution became about preserving the institution.

Which brings us to today and bail-outs.

Now, let's talk the advertising industry. Where to begin? What started as a few "men in a hurry," has become a receptacle of Microsoft meeting makers. We sit sit sit and think about how to make a successful meeting, how to do something that looks like someone else's innovation rather than innovating ourselves. We feed our own machine, churning out commercials whether or not anyone watches, writing last year's marketing for last year's products. We have become an institution.

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Briefs made easy.

Five years or so ago I worked for a brilliant ECD who taught me many things I didn't learn till years later. (I have saved and still read some of the emails he wrote to me when I was angry or disconsolate about this matter or that.) He was that kind of guy.

In any event, this ECD had the knack for making things--even very complicated things--very simple. And one of the things he taught me was this. There is essentially only one brief in all of advertising. Or, perhaps, all briefs should answer one question: "Do you want to be part of the past or part of the future?"

In other words, do you want to be Sam Goody or iTunes?
General Motors or Toyota?
United Airlines or Virgin Atlantic?
Coke or Pepsi?

I thought of this today as I read Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. In an article titled "While Detroit Slept" he says: "our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of Amazon.com and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet" You can read the whole thing here. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/opinion/10friedman.html?_r=1&hp

Again, drawing from Friedman, I guess you can phrase your briefs this way: "Whatever can be done, will be done. The only question is will it be done by you or to you."

Advertising and plumbers.

Of late I have shot and produced half-a-dozen spots that were approved and are running. Some cosmic particles infected one of the clients involved and now, after all the approvals--including approval by his bosses boss the client decides he wants to change things or at least see alternatives.

"See what you can do for little or no budget," the account people relay to me, drooling out of one corner of their mouths.

I came late to home (or apartment) ownership, so my interactions with burly contractors has been very limited, but I can't even come close to imagining saying to a plumber--two weeks after the job is complete--that I'm unhappy with the job I approved. (I provide no specific reasons for my unhappiness.) And then I bid them to come back to my apartment--for free--and think about what they'd have done differently.

Of all the skills you look for in account people the most over-looked and under-appreciated one is basic dignity. If account people don't have the dignity to say don't treat us like this, all the brilliant contact reports, all the spreadsheets and powerpoints they pixel-push into fruition are worth fuck all.

Dignity. Try it some time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bi-polar brands.

It's no picnic growing up with a bi-polar parent. You never know what to expect, if you're going to get hugged or thwacked in the head with a rolled-up National Geographic. Yet most of the brands we interact with are as bi-polar as Joan Crawford on a dark day.

Years ago I worked on the H-P account. Man, their advertising was beautiful. Then you turned to one of their FSIs. It looked like that old horror movie, "Revenge of the Rat's Breakfast." Likewise, as my blogosphere friend Bob Hoffman points out in his wonderful blog The Ad Contrarian http://adcontrarian.blogspot.com/ points out, all is sweetness and light in fast-food advertising, but step into a restaurant and welcome to Surly-ville.

Think GM for a second. How disconnected the buying experience was from their spots. Oh, Hal Riney challenged that for a while with their work on Saturn--the best car advertising since VW, but they were summarily dismissed and GM reverted to form--that is the form of your local neighborhood robber baron.

No big point here but to propagate the phrase that pays--bi-polar brands. If you have one or work for one buy your funeral garb now.

Monday, December 8, 2008

More corporate dumbness.

I just got through with a new business pitch at a client's office space. Nothing extraordinarily dumb there. But get this. They have Christmas music piped through the office space--Christmas music everywhere. And while I'm presenting one of those numbers comes on with a lot of tinkling. All I can think of is some little girl with an up-turned nose wearing a red-velvet dress and playing the triangles.

Corporate dumbness.

A friend came over for brunch yesterday, a very bright friend and a former account person who went over, for a number of reasons, to the client side. We had hardly finished schmearing the cream cheese when she began talking about the bloated dumbness of corporate America.

I love it on those rare occasions when I'm not the most cynical in the room and this was one of those moments. Later on in the day, after my friend departed, I fell prey to a banner ad I saw on fortune.com for a free credit report. Figuring I'd be relatively safe given that the ad was on Fortune's site I filled in the requisite information and got my credit score.

Now came the hard part. Unsubscribing from the so-called free service. Ten minutes to find the phone number, ten minutes on hold, and then ten minutes with a persistent rep who kept trying to get me to reconsider. Finally he said, "Mr. Tunerborf (he couldn't pronounce my name) Mr. Talleyrand, because you're a valued customer, we'll take $5 off the monthly price."

Valued customer? I was deceived into being a customer by your hundreds of millions of advertising proclaiming your service to be free. I became your customer 20 minutes ago and since then have been trying to have my name removed. Please define "valued customer."

Then, I get an email from Sony, again promising a special deal because I am a valued customer. My last phone interaction with Sony was a screaming match because they failed to honor the warranty I paid for, "You should have read the agreement before you left the store," the rep said to me. Quickly I imagined myself reading the three pages of single-spaced 6-pt. type.

Oh, there's more, there's more. But to all those companies that worry about their brands and pour millions in to them, worry more about crap like this. Because this is the stuff consumers remember.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ring Lardner.

I don't have anything to say about advertising today, so I thought I toss into Ad Aged some words from one of my favorite all-time writers: Ring Lardner. You can find a lot of Lardner's work online but for now, here are two quotations.

"Mother set facing the front of the train, as it makes her giddy to ride backwards. I set facing her, which does not affect me." From a short story called, "The Golden Honeymoon."

And, perhaps the greatest line in all of American literature from a Lardner story called "The Young Immigrants": "Shut up he explained."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Speaking of Goodby.

The smartest person I ever worked for (by about 50 IQ points) once said to me, "there's no secret to what Goodby does. They take classic advertising forms and up-date them to the 21st Century."

The HP Printer ad in Ad Aged's previous post is exactly that. A 21st-century demonstration.

The commercials here are that HP spot's spiritual forerunner. Take 3:16 and see some brilliant work.

Thank you.


This item just flashed across the Alaska desk at the Ad Aged news bureau in Washington: "G.O.P. Paid Almost $55,000 for Palin Stylist"

That headline hasn't sent me off into a dizzying tirade about Republicans, the state of our nation or the stupidity of our political process. No, instead of railing about all that, I thought I'd take a few dozen words or more and talk about the word stylist.

It seems in advertising over the last few years we have been infected with stylists who insisted on working solo--without substantists. Now that we are in the throes of what seems to be shaping up as a deep and serious recessions perhaps these two -ists, will unite to create advertising that is beautiful while it imparts useful consumer information.

On Tuesday I saw a printer spot by way of Goodby and HP that does just that.

Maybe we'll get back to good advertising--advertising that says something and demonstrates something of value. Instead of pretentious bs.

Four Country & Western songs. Direct from NYC.

"I Can't Get Over You.
(So Can I Please Get Under You.)"

"I Saw a One-Legged Woman Walking a Three-Legged Dog."

"Jesus is my Doorman."

"Chalk Lines (on a Prison Wall in Tulsa.)

I've just written the titles so far. Feel free to add.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

This amuses me.

Lend me your body parts.

My wife, who is a gifted creative, recently received two separate emails in which either a client or an account person beckoned her to attend a meeting because "they needed her brain."

I protest.

What HR fate would befall me if I said I needed someone to come to a meeting because "I need her tongue." Imagine, "Could you please make sure Jennifer can make it to our 11. I really think we need her ass."

In other words, let's put an end to bodily functions.


Categorization is a means of discrimination. Whether it's sect versus sect in religion, lovers of rock versus lovers of classical in music or soccer moms versus ping-pong dads, when you shove people or things in pods, when you classify them you do so, most often, to say my group is superior.

That, naturally, brings us to advertising.

We have myriad categories that create divisiveness and, perhaps worse, bad work. We have traditional people, direct people, interactive people, yellow-page people, promotions people, and so it goes. Likewise we have work that fits those sorts as well.

Years ago I shot a nice commercial for a computer. When I was adding the titles to it, I added the machine's price. "You can't do that," I was told--by the client, no less--"this is a brand ad."

Huh? I thought the commercial had two objectives: make people think IBM computers are cool and to remind them to buy one. Those objectives did not seem contradictory to me.

OK. Enough for now. Just one more thing, there was an agency slogan I heard many years ago, I think from the agency Earl Palmer Brown. It was "Build sales over night, build brands over time." That makes sense to me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When you're an alte cocker.*

*see my previous post, "You Don't Have to be Jewish," for a translation. http://adaged.blogspot.com/2007/06/yiddish-for-ad-people.html

My last couple dozen jobs or so (spanning 2-and-a-half years) I've been charged with attempting to change moribund or creatively mediocre agencies into places that do good work.

When you're paid to do this there are a couple of phrases you hear with alarming frequency. "Two steps forward, one back," is one. Another is "You have to pick your battles."

This morning I thought about those phrases and I thought about Rudy Guiliani. I hated Guiliani as a mayor but one thing he noticed along the way was that petty illegalisms and nuisances lead to an increase in the crime rate. So Guiliani wiped out the "squeegee men," who extorted money from incoming Jersey-ites by cleaning their windshields (whether they wanted cleaning or not) in exchange for a few bucks.

Guiliani had "zero-tolerance" for miscreance like that. And that's I agree with Guiliani.

When your job is to change an agency, you can have zero tolerance. You can't abide shitty work--even a tacky set of Xmas decorations in the lobby--because one advertising squeege-er leads to bigger creative crimes.

In short, when you start hearing those seemingly innocuous phrases like "two steps forward, one back," take out your acetylene torch and start flaming.

I raised my hand and volunteered to do more work.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tall versus short.

Many years ago I had an acquaintance with a very tall copywriter (he was 6'7") who had once worked for a very short executive creative director (he was 5'3".)

After enduring years of abuse from Short, Tall decided to quit. He went into Short's office to resign. Tall pointed to just above his own belly-button and said to Short,
"I've had it up to here with you."

Sometimes I feel like that.

I'm no Henry David Thoreau.

Civil Disobedience aside, Thoreau and all that Walden Pond stuff never really resonated with the force that through green fuse drives the flower-urban side of me. And, besides, Thoreau has been somewhat transmuted over the ages as the copper-plate-engraved poster-child of Tree Hugging. And, while I am many things a tree hugger ain't one of them.

That said, there are many times when I feel, when I believe, when the accumulated weight of the bullshit of life makes me feel like the world is too much with us, as Wordsworth wrote. In other words when I wish I could be. Somewhere else.

I came upon this sentence while reading a book this morning:
"If you walk on concrete for too long you start to think like a predator."

Don't know why, but that hit me between the eyes.

Steak for dinner.

Monday, December 1, 2008

No real point here.

But we're bailing out Citibank, yes? And they have six pages of advertising in this week's New Yorker. Six. Including a gatefold in the inside front cover.

Some words about my father.

Back in the 1960s and early 70s, my father was a big agency big deal big muckety-muck. He drank thirty-two martinis a day, smoked about a dozen toxic cigars and schtupped anything in a skirt.

Every once in a while he was also able to impart some bona-fide wisdom. Here's one instance. I think of it on the heels of getting three emails today from people in the business who have just lost their jobs.

OK, journey with me back to 1972. I am fourteen. I am in the kitchen in my parent's house. My father is in the kitchen as well. I open the avocado-colored frigidaire looking for some chemically saturated processed food. I notice a bottle of champagne.

I turn to my father and ask, "What's that for? When you win an account or get a promotion?"

"No," he answers. "That's for when I get fired."

I've been fired just once in my life but I've been around enough fired people to understand what my father meant.

Being fired is good. Though it may not seem like it when it happens, but it was time to leave, it was time to inject a little fear into your veins, time to take personal stock, time to try something you wouldn't try if you weren't forced.

That's what happens when you're fired.

I hate to sound like Deepak Chopra or something
but pop a cork, count your limbs, put your site together
and call all your friends.

It'll all be ok.

The banking crisis, cont'd.

Oh doom and gloom.
Oh Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

I was on the phone with Chase this morning so it makes sense to talk about what's wrong with banks and banking. And by application the rest of our so-called service economy.

Phone trees where NONE of the options, even after listening to them twice come remotely close to describing your issue.

People on the other end of the phone whose names you cannot understand who are as incapable of pronouncing your name as a goldfish is of whistling.

Getting a person on the phone who cannot handle your issue because they are in the wrong division. Note: They are always in the wrong division.

And now, the real reason banks--and most of the rest of businesses are failing:
Here's what my hold announcement said this morning:
"We are currently providing other customers with excellent service..."

I can only imagine the hours (and dollars) spent by the marketing department
to devise that line.
As an ex-ECD of mine once intoned: "Oh, fuck me with an iron rod."

I would love to take a brick--a brick from capitalism's crumbling edifice--and smash one Chase plate-glass window and one Chase ATM screen for every syllable in "We are currently providing other customers with excellent service..."

Maybe then they will stop answering their phones with annoying, no, insulting
sales-speak when all you want is a problem solved.


I thought my agency was closed between Thanksgiving and the new year.