Saturday, January 31, 2009

The layoff tracker.
I found this on Forbes. I wish it were live like the "Viet-Iraq-O-Gate" calculator to the right, but this is the best I can do. The tracker posts the layoffs since Nov. 1, 2008, at America's 500 largest public companies.

Anyone up for doing one for the ad-industry?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Feed me! Feed me! (I'm a typo.)

I walked into the lobby of my apartment house and saw a notice that we were having an owners' meeting for the co-op. It's being held at St. Stephan of Hungry Church.


Today's client cliche, boys and girls, is the phrase "story-telling," as in "the ad should be story-telling, it should tell a story about our brand."

Of course, when you go to speak to the client they insist on powerpoint, the antithesis of story-telling and they want spider-graphs and inverted pyramids and factored fractorials. They want a linearity which story-telling often avoids. Also, they want no humor, no jokes, no sex, no laughter, no tears, no emotion, no drama, no pace, no crescendo, no build. BUT THEY WANT STORY-TELLING. Of course, they want in in small space, with four products, six lines of legal and the word "new" in bold.

Was it David Ogilvy who said that an ad must be more interesting than the media it's surrounded by? If he didn't he should have.

In any event, here is a link to Maira Kalman's story about the inauguration of Obama.

A thing of beauty.


I just came upon this in The New York Times. If you were pondering why our economy is collapsing, why our industry is collapsing, why it seems like our nation is collapsing mull over the data below.

"The income of the 400 wealthiest Americans swelled in 2006, soaring nearly 23 percent from the previous year, to an average of $263 million, according to data released Thursday by the Internal Revenue Service. Since 1996, this group has nearly doubled its share of all income earned in the United States.

The top 400 paid just more than $18 billion in federal income taxes in 2006, or an average of $45 million, on a record $105 billion in total income — the lowest effective tax rate in the 15 years since the agency began releasing such data."

Chances are, if you're reading this post, your federal tax rate is between 33%-38%. Yet the richest 400 Americans paid just 17%.
In my agency, I am attempting to implement "The OSOR Program." OSOR is One Set of Rules. In too many businesses, in too many crevices of our country, in too many sectors of our economy, there is "free swim" for too many people. Laying people off while staying at The Four Seasons or speedo-ing it out to Cannes for a week of groping--that's not OSOR, and it's not right.

As Karl Malden, the potato-eater priest in "On the Waterfront" said quoting the Bible, "What happens to the least of us, happens to the best of us." And if you don't believe me, print out this post and toss it into your $1,400 trash can.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Post Office. And advertising.

My brilliant friend Tore just sent me a note about the Post Office cutting back service (I assume from three days a month to two) due to the recession. That struck Tore, and me, as egregiously counter-intuitive in that inexplicable cost-benefit analysis way that only MBAs can concoct.

Here's what's going to happen if the post office gets its way and cuts back on service. Customers who need the service will find alternatives. Those alternatives will prove effective and more customers will then decide to go with the alternative more often, leading to a further decline in post office business that will necessitate a further cut in service. And so it goes.

Whether you run a post office of an ad agency, the only way to survive a downturn is to provide more service. And perhaps fire your MBAs.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And now a word from Bill Bernbach.

My boss asked me what I want him to get out of a meeting with a high-level client. I thought and thought and then I remembered this.

Rewrite it for your clients and for your agency.
It's nearly 50-years old. But it could have been written yesterday.

Avis Rent A Car Advertising Philosophy

1. Avis will never know as much about advertising as DDB, and DDB will never know as much about the rent a car business as Avis.
2. The purpose of the advertising is to persuade the frequent business renter (whether on a business trip, or renting an extra car at home) to try Avis.
3. A serious attempt will be made to create advertising with five times the effectiveness (see #2 above) of the competition’s advertising.
4. To the end, Avis will approve or disapprove, not try to improve, ads which are submitted. Any changes suggested by Avis must be grounded on a material operating defect (a wrong uniform for example).
5. To this end, DDB will only submit for approval those ads which they as an agency recommend. They will not “see what Avis thinks of that one.”
6. Media selection should be the primary responsibility of DDB. However, DDB is expected to take the initiative to get guidance from Avis in weighing of markets or special situations, particularly in those areas where cold numbers do not indicate the real picture. Media judgments are open to discussion. The conviction should prevail. Compromises should be avoided.

John Updike, 1932-2009.

The great John Updike died yesterday. These are my remembrances from working with "Rabbit," as I dubbed him.

Back during the halcyon days of my career, when I was a bronze-Addy winning ACD on the ever-so-glam Gorton's Fish Sticks account, my partner (Craig--are you out there?) had had quite a run. First, we shot a spot with that rollicking Swede Ingmar Bergman (read about it here: We followed that up with another Gorton's spot with the stickiest of all fish stick spokespeople, Bettie Page

Now we were "tasked" (as account people like to say) with introducing a new line of Gourmet Gorton's fish sticks called "Gorton's Signature." I think it was Craig who said it: "Let's get perhaps the most notable literary signature of all. Let's get Updike." And so we did.

Off camera Updike was shy and laconic. But under the lights he was a pro. "Gorton's signature fish sticks," he intoned, "made from select filets of fresh--never frozen--young scrod." Then he signed his name ( in tartar sauce, a bit over-the-the-top for my taste, but that's show-biz) and said, "They're the only fish sticks good enough for Gorton's signature. And mine."

Big guy, rest in peace. You will be missed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Going to the movies.

I decided to light out of the office at lunch yesterday to take in Hollywood's hottest picture: "Paul Blart Mall Cop." It was sold out so I went to see a porno flick instead. It was called "Stimulus Package."

April is the cruelest moth.

Oh, I could make this post--pursuant to my post yesterday about "boarders" and as The Ad Contrarian pointed out "quantifiable metrics." But I won't. Exacting as I am, I am a lousy proofreader. I do, however, have quite an ear for a mirthful malaprop or even the occasional Spoonerism.

Speaking of Spooner and his isms, my favorite is "he rode down the street on a well-boiled icicle." Here are two others: "Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?"
"The Lord is a shoving leopard."

This isn't a Spoonerism, but to my mind it's even better, since it is attributed to Groucho: "Time flies like and arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."

No point in this post.
Except this little one.
I hope I made you laugh.
I could do worse.

PS. I just heard on NPR that companies are cutting jobs via "layoffs and attrition." And I said to my wife, "how else would you cut jobs," and she sagely replied (she is older and wiser than I) "kill people."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sometimes I just want to scream.

As the creative head of my office, I have been asked by management (whatever that means) to participate in an "Office Evaluation." Here's what said evaluation is meant to do: "The Office Evaluation was established to apply a standard set of quantifiable metrics, consistent with our Agency’s Core Objectives, to executive performance reviews."


Now I turn to criterion 1 and I find this: Become a true global agency that is connected by a common culture and has the ability to work across boarders, disciplines and clients seamlessly.

work across boarders.

Does that mean I have to work across people boarding in my apartment? Or in smaller offices do we actually have people boarding on-site?

With apologies to everyone.

A Topical Poem.

When everything ain't hunky-dory,
The economy is in free-fally,
Clients cutting more and more-y,
The future looking oh so gory,
I do not worry, shake or fear,
I don't drown my sorrows in a beer,
Or seek a blond like H. Locklear,
Instead I say a phrase so dear,
Come closer if you care to hear,
And if you wish pull up a chair,
Relax a bit, let down your hair,
Put on a smile, dry your tear,
And say with me, Oy Vey Iz Mir.

Oy Vey Iz Mir, Oy Vey Iz Mir
When ever there is trouble near,
Just simply say Oy Vey Iz Mir.

It isn't hard, and you can do it,
You'll find it nice and therapeutic,
Its charms are proven, the cure ain't newish,
It's good for all, not just the Jewish.
So stand up straight, don't slump your shoulders
And say it loud and say it bolder,
Shout it now so all can hear,
At the top of your lungs, Oy Vey Iz Mir.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


There is an article in today's New York Times called "German Engineers Fail the Paternity Test" about the Volkswagen Routan. Here I quote the Times:

"IN the ad campaign that introduced the Volkswagen Routan, the actress Brooke Shields worries that women are getting pregnant just so they can experience German engineering in the form of a minivan... The 2009 Routan isn’t engineered by Germans, unless you count the ones who used to work for DaimlerChrysler. It is merely a rebadged, slightly rebodied, mildly retuned Chrysler minivan..."

In another article in the Times I saw this headline: "Pope Reinstates Four Excommunicated Bishops." Among the men reinstated was Richard Williamson, a British-born Priest and Holocaust denier who saidi last week that he did not believe that six million Jews died in the Nazi gas chambers.

I'll quote the reinstated Bishop here: "I believe there were no gas chambers... I think that 200 000 to 300 000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers."

"There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies!". Williamson has been reinstated by an organization that ostensibly preaches love, brotherhood, honesty and the golden rule.

Both these cases are examples of what Ad Aged likes to call Brandicide. Brandicide is when brands act in a way that can kill, or at least damage, a brand. In other words when you sanction your brand telling lies to the public.

There's not much outside of vociferous protest that ad agencies can do in the face of brandicide. As my mentor once said to me, "sometimes you can't keep the dinosaurs from the tar pits."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This is dumb.

The first part of this ad read "Air France salutes your freedom of choice".
Now I, like everyone else I know, voted for Obama. But 46% of the population didn't. So this ad runs the chance of ticking off at least 4 in 10. Maybe 70% of NY Times readers (where the ad is running) voted for Obama, but that's still 30% of people you're slighting. Of course that's a smaller percentage than usual for the French.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oh to be in England.

A map from an article in The New York Times entitled "No Snickering: That Sign Means Something".

More definitions.

The Washington Post has also just published the winning submissions to its yearly contest in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. And the winners are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one
has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing
only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has
been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by

13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul
flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by
Jewish men.

New words.

These are the winners of this year's Washington Post's Mensa Invitational which asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition :

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the
subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who is both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts
until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops
bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately,
shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose
of getting a date.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the
person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these
really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and
it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day
consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter
when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after
you've accidental ly walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into
your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm
in the fruit you're eating.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Great work.

This is some of the best work--the smartest, most-engaging work I've seen in a long-time. Someone at Miller Brewing or their agency realized that they can't out-produce, out-spend or out-anything the 800-lb. gorilla in the room--Bud.

Just as when you work on a beauty account saying "hey, I have an idea, let's use a really, really beautiful model, no, I mean really beautiful," won't cut it, neither will trying to out-Bud Bud.

In these spots Miller kills Bud. And hands me a good laugh to boot.

A linguistic assault.

In the scheme of things, in an era where our linguistic and semantic bar is set so low a cockroach could limbo beneath it, the current slaughter perpetrated on proper English (or Hanglish as my Yiddish-speaking grandmother would mumble) is indeed minor. Still mangling English "rubs my goat the wrong way."

I sicken when I hear otherwise intelligent people say "close proximity," or "general consensus" or "somewhat unique." So then, I admit my punctiliousness. Forgive me Father for I can speak.

Here's the one I've been hearing since the inauguration. "A new beginning." As opposed to what, an old beginning?

Looking at the world in three dimensions.

Right now I am reading "With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain" by the great historian Michael Korda. Naturally, the story of the battle of the free world versus Hitler's tyranny set me thinking about advertising.

One of the heroes of the Battle of Britain almost 70 years ago was Hugh Dowding. Dowding was the first person in history to see an aerial battlefield completely. He understood that if the Brits were to prevail over the better-armed Nazis it was more than a matter of more planes, more guns and more pilots.

What Dowding constructed was a network that allowed him to see and chart (via rudimentary radar) incoming enemy planes. He was also able to see ships on the sea, anti-aircraft guns on the ground and communicate with dispersed squadrons of RAF pilots.

What Dowding did is what clients, agencies and holding companies don't do. We look at our work alone and perseverate over minutia like the difference, say, between the word "although" and the word "but." What we fail to do is create a big board like Dowding did. A big communications board would not only map communications in all the channels a client uses, it would do the same for the client's competition. Responses could be (and this was Dowding's real breakthrough) in real-time, not in client time.

Essentially, this is how the Obama campaign worked. Clear direction guided from above and immediate response to threats and opportunities.

No matter what client you work for--and I've worked for some of the biggest--you are pretty much always out-gunned. As Dowding showed, greater intelligence is the way to stare down and prevail in the face of greater weaponry. Advertisers need to get out of their conference rooms and powerpoints and find a way to get smart.
P.S. "Smart" in the context I am writing of is not listening to a lady in a focus group in Bridge Mix, New Jersey. Smart is accurately seeing the world in all its tectonic complexity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Daily dumbness update.

I was browsing different agency websites--call it schadenfreude, and I came upon this on one interactive agency's site. "North America Named Adweek's 2004 Agency of the Year."

Two things:

One: If you have a website, keep it up-to-date.
Two: Don't brag about things you did five years ago.

In Advertising, What Distinguishes a Great Client?

Twenty-one years ago almost to the day, Martin Puris of Ammirati & Puris (the best agency of its day) wrote an article for Adweek on what makes a great client. I have been carting it around for the last couple decades and regularly refer to it simply because it is so simple and makes such sense.

Maybe in our impecunious era, our trust-less era, our 'fuck 'em before they fuck you' era, this is all quaint and naive. But I'm quaint and naive enough to still hold these truths to be self-evident.

If you'd like me to send you a pdf of the complete article, drop me a note and I will. But only if you promise to try to improve your client-hood or your agency by considering the principles re-published here.

Ten Principles for Building a Better Relationship With Your Agency

*Inculcate a spirit of partnership.
*Be wary of change for change’s sake.
*Make sure your agency is making a fair profit on your account.
*Make the agency totally absorbed in the company’s product, the people and the corporate culture.
*Create an environment of experimentation and be prepared to pay for failure.
*Treat the agency people well.
*Agree to a clearly defined objective for advertising.
*Keep approvals simple, and disapprovals kind.
*Make the agency responsible for the advertising, and give it the authority it needs to be responsible.
*Give the agency a formal evaluation every year.

(Maybe I am posting this today because of yesterday--the spirit of responsibility, candor, and back-to-basics. Maybe if we work hard we can do work that works that we are also proud of.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Ballad of Irving.

Almost daily I get emails and phone calls from friends and acquaintances who don't finish first--who don't work for Crispin, who aren't honored by the One Club or Communication Arts and thus they regard themselves as failures.

This is from a Preston Sturges movie--a romp about success and failure called "Christmas in July." " system could be right where only half of 1% were successes and all the rest were failures - that wouldn't be right. I'm not a failure. I'm a success. And so are you, if you earn your own living and pay your bills and look the world in the eye."

Here is another rumination of failure and success:

I hate to be prosaic, but success comes from trying and trying and trying. Working and fighting and fighting some more. Success comes from not going gentle into that good night and not ever, ever giving up.

Miracles still happen here.

Maybe there are forces we can't see that sometimes send us messages. In the course of a week, a plane crash lands on a river and all survive, and a mixed-race man becomes President of a country where fifty-years-ago he could hardly even vote in much of our territory, where police chiefs were turning fire hoses and siccing dogs on people who wanted little more than the rights guaranteed them in the 15th Amendment in 1870.

Of course there are analytical reasons for these un-related events. Planes are designed to be virtually impervious. And the fight for equal rights for all has been fought for centuries if not longer.

Still, these are miracles. And as a lesson to advertisers and agencies they represent something seminal. Most often, I've found, when you show work to clients they run through a checklist in their heads to make sure all mandatories are the must-dos are met and all the watch-outs are avoided. Going through such a list assures everyone that the work will "work."

But the truth of the matter is that in this world both disasters and miracles cannot be foreseen much less accounted for. Ducks in a row can be sullied by rapids. And in the end emotion will always trump logic. No matter how hard we try to eliminate it because it has no place on a checklist.

We work in a business where many act as if laughter and emotion don't count. An ad that makes you laugh or feel is no good if it doesn't also say "lemon-fresh." Laughter, emotion, moving-ness, feeling are all miracles. Miracles that for the most part we attempt to destroy, mitigate and eliminate.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A bit more on laughter.

Use the words "honor" and "offer" in a sentence.

"She offered her honor.
He honored her offer.
And all night longer he was on her and off her."

Advertising in the Year Million.

I am reading a little book now called "Year Million: Science at the Far End of Knowledge." It's a bit deep-dish for me, a lot of mathematics and I suppose the physics is coming--two topics my mind was never able to wrap itself around, but having just read the first of the book's collected essays, I have already found something that's made it worth the extraordinary cover price of $40.

In an essay called "The Laughter of Copernicus," writer Jim Holt theorizes that most of what we know from today will have disappeared by 1,000,000 AD, but two things will survive: numbers and laughter.

I won't go into detail here, I can't actually, I'm not sure I understand it all well enough to write about it, but I am heartened by Holt's thesis that laughter will survive. Laughter, Holt asserts, is based on incongruity, an interrupted syllogism, as in, "the key to success is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made." The reason the survival of laughter makes me happy is simple, if laughter survives, the basics of communication also survive.

So much of what we hear today about advertising, the death of media, the importance of social networks, seems to posit that the very essence of good communication will change. That is so much bullshit. Holt, like me, believes like Dooley Wilson sang "As Time Goes By" in Casablanca:

"You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

"And when two lovers woo
They still say, I love you
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by."

In other words, the fundamental things will still apply 998,000 years from now. There will still be techno-savants blathering on and on about new paradigms and advanced modalities. But in the end laughter will matter. As will clear communication.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Let's have a meeting about this.

There was an article in yesterday's New York Times about meetings. It's called "Meetings Are a Matter of Precious Time." You can read it here:

Here are some of the points of the article, I quote:
*Whoever calls a meeting should be explicit about its objectives. This means specifying tangible goals and assigning responsibility for creating, summarizing and reporting on them. Ask yourself this question: Specifically, what do we want accomplished when we walk out of the room?

*Everyone should think carefully about the opportunity costs of a meeting: How many participants are really needed? How long should the meeting last? Set a definite ending time. Anyone who doubts that the meeting is necessary, or thinks it’s too long, should speak up.

*Don’t just call a meeting and hope the magic happens. Take charge and take personal responsibility for meeting its objectives, whatever they are.
I cite the above firm in my belief that our jobs, creating what we create is really quite simple. What makes our jobs a brain-suck are the meetings to get to the work, the meetings to sell the work, the meetings to produce the work and then the post-mortem meetings to discuss the work.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I hope someone is watching.

Circuit City, the big box retailer and America's second-largest consumer electronics retail chain, went out of business this week. I think in their demise there is a lesson for those of us in advertising.

In the midst (or maybe the beginning) of Depression 2.0, there will be great pressure on advertising agencies to cut costs like mad, to provide exactly what clients say they want with a minimum of added value. This is a formula that will lead to death.

In my mind it's pretty simple. If your only reason for being is that you're a low-cost provider, you're doomed. There will always be someone, somewhere that is a lower-cost provider. You, whether you're an agency, a retailer, a telco, an airline or a hooker, must do more. You must provide intelligence, judgment, guidance, honesty, service that low-cost providers simple can't proffer.

Finally, I have to believe that no one nowhere will actually miss Circuit City or any other low-cost provider. If clients or patrons won't miss what you provide when you're gone, you're screwed.

Friday, January 16, 2009


There are many things about how people use the English language that drive me mad. Things that drive me almost off the deep-end to the point where I feel like attacking violators with a hard-bound copy of "Strunk & White."

As I was making myself a cup of tea this morning I just heard this on the TV news show blaring in the agency kitchen. "When Suzanne Martin heard that the US Air flight landed in the Hudson river, her eyes were literally glued to the screen."


Literally means really. Virtually means metaphorically.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The apotheosis of dumb.

Or perhaps I should write 'an apotheosis of dumb.'

Today I have just a few words for the banality of brainstorming. Of all the tyrannies perpetrated in our overly-democratic-every-idea-is-a-good-idea age, brainstorming is, perhaps, the most pernicious.

Ideas must run through filters.
They must be bent and twisted and tested and ruminated over before they are aired.

Brainstorming sessions are tonnage sessions most often based on no criteria of good.
The odds of being good at brainstorming are stacked against the scrupulous and thoughtful. The glib love brainstorming because it fills a couple hours and makes
them feel as if they contributed.

But someone saying to Van Gogh 'why don't we use paint,' hasn't really helped matters. Or added anything.

By the way, here is the Wikipedia definition of brainstorming:

"Brainstorming is a group creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution of a problem. The method was first popularized in the late 1930s by Alex Faickney Osborn in a book called Applied Imagination. Osborn proposed that groups could double their creative output with brainstorming.[1]

Although brainstorming has become a popular group technique, researchers have not found evidence of its effectiveness for enhancing either quantity or quality of ideas generated."

Most often what we do isn't brainstorming, it's blurt-farting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Creativity is where you find it.

I came across this last night It's a loop of imaginative and for the most part brand-enhancing web-site loading screens. You can watch the whole kit and kaboodle in about seven minutes.

My point here is simple. Twenty years ago bombastic ECDs would clomp down hallways shouting "I don't care if it's a matchbook cover, it has to be great." These loading screens indicate that that fervid spirit of pervasive creativity is still alive. Even throwaways are a product to craft.

Now speaking of loading, a couple of "I'm a drunken sot" quotations from W.C. Fields.

"A woman drove me to drink and I didn't even have the decency to thank her."

"Ah, the patter of little feet around the house. There's nothing like having a midget for a butler."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's time for a one-liner.

I'm so busy at work, I hardly have time to steal office supplies.

Wokka wokka.

Advertising in the Year 3000.

Oh, it’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the Black Death, the Great Depression and the Invasion of the Huns
all wrapped up in one giant, pulsating cataclysm.
Traditional media isn’t working.
No one is clicking on banners.
Nobody opens mail.
Every TV show is DVRd; spots run unseen.
They are the sound of one hand clapping.
Clients are cutting spending.
The current ways of reaching consumers aren’t working.
We need to abandon web 2.0 and shift to new paradigms.
We need to tweet and re-tweet and social network and user-generate.
We need to use words like eco-system and taxonomy and my aforementioned favorite: paradigm.
We need to create charts on desktops that map to engagement strategies with closed feedback loops.

Yikes! If we need to do all this just to survive today,
why in tarnation am I talking about Advertising in the Year 3000?
Here’s why.
One thousand years from now people will still laugh when someone gets hit in the face with a pie.
Or when someone falls into an open manhole.
Or at a wife joke.
They will still like to see a pretty girl.
They will still listen to a story well-told, even if it is told in ways we can't conceive of now.
People will still enjoy a happy ending.
Pay extra for product that looks great.
And root root root for the home team.

Yep, it might seem like the end of the world—
indeed, some days you might wish it was the end of the world.
But depressions, recessions, new technologies and modalities be damned,
the world, and advertising will go on.

And in the year 3000,
if you impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way
you will win awards.

7 things you don't know about me and don't want to.

My friend, The Ad Contrarian has thrown down a contrarian gauntlet of sorts and asked me and a few other bloggers to reveal some personal details. The Ad Contrarian calls it an "insidious pyramid thing" and I'd be inclined to agree--only tempering that description with the admonition that as insidious pyramid things go, such as the US's entire banking system, this one is more insipid than insidious. Nevertheless, here goes:

1. I believe, in general and Shakespeare notwithstanding, English literature has been in a steady decline since Chaucer wrote "The Canterbury Tales." You won't find anything funnier, more profound and filthier no matter how hard you look.
2. Most everything is over-rated. (Except, perhaps, Chaucer.)
3. My favorite line from all of movie-dom is from Preston Sturges' 1948 movie "Unfaithfully Yours." "Nobody handles Handel the way you handle Handel."
4. I was, at one time, within one-inch of being able to dunk a basketball.
5. My favorite "New Yorker" cartoon explains my world view. It's a drawing of Dante and Virgil at the gates of Hell as the workmen are putting the finishing touches on the sign that reads: "Abandon all Hope ye who enter Here." In the cartoon Dante says to Virgil: "Shouldn't it read "Abandon most Hope?"
6. Despite it all, I am hopeful.
7. I never wanted to do this in the first place.

Now there's a second part to all this.
I'm told I have to list seven bloggers I read and ask them to provide a list of
seven things that make them ineffable.
I'll start with these four and come up with more later if I can.

A reminder.

From a hero of mine, George Bernard Shaw. (This goes out especially to The Ad Contrarian.)

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven't got it."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Easter Island, the Upper East Side and Madison Avenue.

All over the Upper East Side this morning sprouted strange monoliths, like the statues on Easter Island, the meaning of which very few can discern. These monoliths--two foot cubes of shrink-wrapped Verizon white pages got me thinking about dominant complacency, doing things because they've always been done.

I'm sure in Telco Towers there are scores of people charged with the procuring, production and proferring of phone books. I'm sure it is a major deal that takes countless hours and generates lots of stress. I wonder though if anyone at those telcos ever questions the efficacy of those phone books. At one time, yes, the were vital. They had a special place in a special drawer near the phone. As a society, we looked things up.

Today, however, we are always on. And we Google everything. I can't imagine either of my daughters, 17 and 21, wanting, needing, using a phone book. In fact, I can't imagine them even having a land-line.

Yet, phone books keep on coming.

Our whole industry is operating a lot like the telcos, if you stop and think about it. Watching just a few minutes of football this weekend I saw car commercial after car commercial. Nothing that betrayed an awareness that sales were down close to 40% last month. Would sales be any worse if car advertising ceased? I'm sure "marketing" people in all four corners bemoan the lack of effectiveness of :30s. I'm sure the cable stations and networks are panic-struck about declining ad sales. But ad innovation is non-existent. (:30s once made sense. I think it's a dumb length now. The internet has whetted our appetite for more information than the :30 can provide.)

But somehow the same tired formula prevails. We keep producing phone books. The man in the gray flannel suit is becoming as ancient and isolated as the the guys pictured above. However, instead of looking over the horizon, we are looking into the past.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A lot of things that are no longer in vogue should be.

One-liners are out-of-fashion. They're old and passe. If you're a comedian, it's all about observational humor.

Sorry, one-liners still make me laugh:

"When I grew up, my mother's cooking was so bad, we thought Thanksgiving
was a commemoration of Pearl Harbor."

The power of writing.

The New York Times upholds a pretty high-level of writing and the online Times (because it includes blogs and whatnot by some notable thinkers) surpasses that of the paper edition. This morning I read Dick Cavett's blog, "Talk Show" which was all about the art of the insult. You can read the whole thing here:

Of the many insult instances that Cavett talks about here are my a few of my favorites--brilliant examples of the ability of brilliant writing to touch people:

This from a book review: “The book? Once I put it down, I couldn’t pick it up.”

This from Winston Churchill:
She: Mr. Churchill, you are drunk.
Winston: Madame, you are ugly.
She: Mr. Churchill, you are extremely drunk!
Winston: And you, Madame, are extremely ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober.

And finally, the apotheosis, from, naturally Groucho:
Upon leaving a stuffy Beverly Hills party thrown by a socialite, Groucho said to her, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”

Friday, January 9, 2009

I guess it's a holdover from a different era.

Every Friday in my agency at about 11, Johhny, the office jack-of-all-trades puts a big galvanized pot filled with water up to boil on the stove in our community kitchen. Usually around half-an-hour later, the Lobster Man shows up with two boxes of about 25 lobsters each.

It's all done on the honor system, show up in the kitchen at the right time, drop a few bucks in the "lobster pot" and cook yourself a delicious lunch. (Bring your own melted butter.)

I know the economy sucks and agencies are reeling, but if we give up institutions like this one, we are giving up our soul.

I had a three-hour brand immersion yesterday.

Next time, I'll wear my wetsuit.

"To pursue other interests."

Nearly every day in the trade press we read about some C-level person who is leaving their high-falutin' job of 24-years 'to pursue other interests.' To pursue other interests is a remarkable turn of a phrase. Is there anyone anywhere who thinks even for an nano-second that 'pursuing other interests' isn't synonymous with either "I'm fed up, I quit," or "my ample arse has been canned"?

I guess what sticks in my craw is the dumbness of all this. We use a subterfuge so as to avoid saying "has been fired." But the subterfuge we use is the most cliched cliche and so fools no one. So what's the point?

Today, of course I read this in the online New York Times:
"U.S. Loses 524,000 Jobs in December". Now if those half-million people were highly-paid, would the headline need to be re-written like this: "524,000 in U.S. Choose to Pursue Other Interests"? Or "Choosing to Pursue Other Interests Rate at 15-Year High."

The point, really, is this, language loses its ability to communicate if you abuse it.

Panem et circenses.

That's Latin, you know, for 'bread and circuses,' the un-written Roman policy from 2,000 years ago that if you keep people well-fed and entertained, they won't mind their lack of freedoms.

As "Dubya" gets ready to officially exit (he did spend nearly 500 days on vacation over the last eight years) I cannot help but think that some form of bread and circuses was the policy of his administration. The nightly-excuse-for-news fails to cover either of the two wars we are currently engaged in, not to mention the battles in Sudan, Gaza and Mexico.

We have our imperial banker class. We have our imperial warrior class. We have our imperial political class. We have our imperial entertainer class. These people are above the law. They live in a universe where rules and punishment don't apply.

The rest of us eat our fast-food (panem) and watch our football on Fox (circenses.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My first boss.

Today is the birthday of my first advertising boss. He is 71.

He was my boss when I was a young copywriter at Bloomingdale's. When you work in retail advertising you write write write. Sometimes ten ads a day. You get really precise, really fast really quickly.

That said, every so often you get an ad you just can't get. Maybe the buyers (the client when you're in retail) aren't clear about what they want. Maybe product specs changed. Maybe you yourself are trying to do something a little different for retail. In any event, you're struggling.

I was in that situation almost 30 years ago and my first boss taught me a lesson I think about almost every day. Having written and rewritten the copy a dozen times I still wasn't getting anywhere. My boss came in, read what I wrote and said "tear it up and start completely over." You know, don't work from a previous draft, don't try to fix things that are over-fixed already.

I've always kept that in mind. And it's almost always worked.

Last night I did something weird.

Last night as I was wrapping up for the day I packed my bag and left my computer at work. Blame it on Rio, blame it on Mame, blame it on the New Year, but I decided that the world (and my job) wouldn't come to an end if I severed my 0101010110010101 tether for one evening.

Every morning when my assistant arrives and gets settled she comes into my office with my calendar for the day. Usually I have about a dozen meetings already set up, varying in length from 30 minutes to two hours. That's my day.

I've counted, on average I get 162 emails a day.

What does any of this have to do with getting work done? Naturally as the ECD of an agency, there's stuff I have to do. I have to meet with people, I have to strategize and all that.

But when you add it all together, part of me feels that there is a tyranny of thought control happening here. (Maybe that's why I am so avid about expressing myself in this space.) I have no time to think, to do what I'm good at doing, to create.

Last night I left my computer at work.
What if today I blew off meetings?
Left my email unread?
And just is-ed for the day?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

And another thing.

Years ago when I was just a wee spit o' a lad and was in summer camp I had a counselor, Marty, who was English. I remember one afternoon the camp went to see a summer stock performance and Marty got the playbill and from a typographic point of view, ripped it apart.

Now this was probably 1970 before the word "font" had entered everyone's vocabulary. Type was really set and setting it was a big deal. Care had to be exercised. And at least to professionals or the astute, there was a readily discernible difference between good and bad.

Today there is no such difference. Virtually everything is bad.

Oh, I'm not trying to act the old guy and disparage everything new, but seriously, look at the type in almost any banner ad--see the one above that I've randomly selected. Look at the cover of this week's Adweek and their seemingly arbitrary use of surprinting or knock-out. I don't understand.

I know we all have to work longer and harder and faster (which sounds like a porno flick) but do we have to work uglier?

How bad is the economy?

The New York Times has an article on eating squirrel.

Unfortunately, it included no recipes. Here is Ad Aged's favorite:

Squirrel Cacciatore

~ 2 - 3 squirrels cut up in pieces
~ 1/4 cup flour
~ garlic salt
~ black pepper
~ 2 tbsp oil
~ 1/2 tsp oregano
~ 1/4 tsp ground cloves
~ 1 4oz can sliced mushrooms, drained
~ 1 medium green pepper, chopped
~ 2 onions, sliced
~ 1 rib of celery, chopped
~ 1 15oz can tomato sauce
~ 1/2 cup dry white wine
~ 1 small can(2oz) ripe sliced olives

Shake the squirrel pieces in a bag with flour, garlic salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven saute the pieces in the oil until golden brown.

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the olives. Cover and simmer over low heat about 1 hour, or squirrel is tender.

Stir in black olives simmer 10 minutes more.

Serve with rice or noodles if desired.

The phrase that pays.

During World War II, London was repeatedly bombarded by bombs and rockets. Something like 40,000 citizens were killed and it wasn't unusual to spend the night crowded in an air-raid shelter.

In response to that, this poster went up all over Merrie Olde.

My tightly-gripped two cents says this is advice we all need to keep in mind. The industry (Ogilvy fired a reported 10% yesterday, a rumored 340 people)is contracting. The economy seems to be worsening. We can't do anything about that. What we can do is work hard. Don't let fear over-take us. Don't get down. And help your friends and neighbors. In other words, be a mensch.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Help me! Help me!

I just got an email from an old friend and I noticed her title under her email signature. "Global Solutions Leader."

Oh dearie dear.

As the world's economy begins to look like "The Fall of the House of Usher," that title stopped me. I'm sure my friend the Global Solutions Leader, is one of hundreds of Global Solutions Leaders at her company. I'd guess Latin American Solution Leaders report into her. And Asia/Pacific Solution Leaders. I'd also guess that no one--no one in her company has the title Global Solutions Follower. (You can't really be a leader if no one follows, right?) I'm sure there are Global Solution Leader off-sites and I'm sure it's hard to get on Global Solution Leaders' calendars. I'd guess that when some people get a call from a Global Solution Leader their hands get clammy and they worry about being fired.

But here's my question: What do you do?

What kind of solution (saline?) do you lead globally? And if a solution is lost in Micronesia on its way to Poughkeepsie, can it call you so you can properly lead it?

I think Global Solution Leaders are a large part of our economic morass. They are a small piece of the rigmarole miasma the afflicts the world today.They are among the legions of people paid to think think think about everything that could possibly be wrong with anything anyone does. So, guess what, nothing gets done.

Reading signs.

I arrived at work early this morning--well before anyone else in creative, because I had some stuff to do that demanded a soupcon of solitude. It was dark when I walked into the office. In fact, the only artificial illumination came from the red "EXIT" signs that seem to be placed every ten yards or so down the hallways that gird my floor.

I read, this morning, those signs not as doorway demarcation, I read them as an imperative.

"EXIT," they shout.
"EXIT," they demand.
"EXIT," they cajole.

Yesterday, my friend Tim Brunelle published an article on the Talent Zoo's site called "Your First Portfolio." It was written to supply advice and encouragement to young people hoping for careers in the ad industry. And I was quoted.

But here's my point and what I missed until this morning. Always keep your eyes on the EXIT signs. I'm not suggesting you should be a shop-hopper, but remember as you serve an agency, an agency should serve you. Not just a paycheck--but advancement and satisfaction of a less material kind as well. If you aren't getting what you want for and through all your efforts you aren't, get out and find some place better.

In short, keeping your eyes on the EXIT can be keeping your eyes on the prize--your career.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A new emoticon.

Pursuant to my previous post (perhaps I should call them pists rather than posts) here is my rejoinder and new sign-off to most things great and small.


Emoticon for flipping the bird.


If I see one more email, blog post, or article that closes with an attempt at wit and then, because their attempt wasn't really that good or the writer is insecure as to the efficacy of his or her attempt, the last sentence is punctuated with this: ;-) I think, if I see one more of these, I will procure a high-powered frisbee, climb a steeple and start chucking.

Look, if you make a joke, proffer a bit of satire, sarcasm or irony, go with it. Have the confidence not to say 'that was a joke, nudge nudge wink wink.'

Oy. [:>(

Sunday, January 4, 2009

This I resolve.

A sunnier, more optimistic Ad Aged in 2009.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

America's most-hated brands.

I checked onto my flight back home from Mexico this morning and was immediately stuck with a $25 surcharge for having an extra carry-on. Now, if I'm not mistaken, the surcharge was imposed by the airlines because gasoline at the time was up around $120/bbl. and the weight of extra baggage forced the airlines to pass a fuel surcharge onto fliers. (Though I find it nearly impossible to believe that it costs $25 in fuel to transport a bag anywhere.)

Today, of course, gasoline is about 75% lower than it was but the surcharge remains. What also remains, I believe, in the hearts and minds of consumers is the conviction that the airlines are a bunch of extortionate liars.

Like the ersatz big three automakers, a handful of airlines will go chapter 11 this year. They will cry high costs, they will plead for government bailouts, they will bemoan ails of their own creation. Like the automakers, the airlines brought their woes on themselves. They betrayed any implicit trust the consumer might once have had in their product. So people hate them.

Airlines, automakers, big-box retailers, etc. aren't going belly-up because of union contracts or outrageous pension benefits. They are going down because they haven't lived up to their word. To provide a good product at a fair price. And when they hand you a flight delay or a lemon rather than making good, they dissemble.

There are whole categories that operate this way. PC-makers. ISPs. Airlines. Detroit. Who else?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Thinking of Ed Butler.

Ed Butler was a brilliant creative director I had the good fortune of working for when I was at Ally & Gargano. Besides being a great copywriter he had the gift of the epigram. He could utter things that stuck.

"Kenmore (a client) is just covering his not inconsiderable ass."
"That's as flat as a plate of piss."
A line he wrote for Dannon yogurt "The unforbidden fruit."

I was thinking of Ed yesterday as I went to pee in a men's room by the pool.

There was at Ally a sloppy pee-er. Someone who sprayed this way and that at the urinals. Ed couldn't take it any more. So he had a sign typeset and placed over the urinals.

"Players with short bats should step closer to the plate."

I wish I could say that cured the sloppy pee-er of his issue, but it didn't.
However, in the days before galloping HR-thought-control, it handed everyone, or almost everyone, a good laugh.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Advertising 2009. A prediction. Or wish.

Since the late '90s with the rise of dot con artists, something has been conspicuously missing from advertising. While advertisers (and movie makers and television producers) were wallowing ever-deeper into pools of smut, gerbil-shooting and fart jokes, intelligence just about vanished. When was the last time you read, or heard, a reasoned arguement in an advertisement?

I'm hoping that the downturn in the world's economy will ring in the demise of
botox-vertising. Stuff that might look ok, but is really nonsense pumped-up and silicon-injected--it might lure you in but ultimately, it won't stand up to closer inspection.

Oh, I guess you could say I'm waiting for David Abbott to return, or McCabe, or Amil Gargano, or Martin Puris. When ads, unabashedly sold. When they appealed to both your head and your heart--rather than just sophomoric baseness.

"Give your child an unfair advantage in life."
"The man who controls corporations ought to be able to control his own car."
"Lose the ability to slip out of meetings unnoticed."
"What do I need a computer for anyway."

You know, ads that worked.