Friday, February 27, 2009

A post about my father.

My father was a let down to me on many levels. He was never really there when I needed him when I was growing up. My brother used to call him "the opera singer," because everything out of his mouth was "me me me." Oh yes, I am an obstreperous cuss and always have been. Maybe it was me. But that's besides the point, I suppose.

However, in the almost eight years since my father died I've noticed bits of him coming back now and again, bits of wisdom really. The little things parents give you along the way that maybe you don't notice until your kids are grown and about to go off to college or enter the workforce.

Over my father's desk for as long as I knew him was a small stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He had typed it on his old manual typewriter, the e's filled in, the letters un-evenly hued like typing used to be. I quote it often. Think about it oftener. And pass it along here to you for what it's worth.

"On Anxiety"

"Some of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of grief you endured
From the evil which never arrived."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An update.

I found this update online. Don't know who's responsible, but I admire their effort.

Walking through San Diego Airport.

I come to a sign that says "Sky Bridge."
And I wonder.
What other kind of bridge is there?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stanley Kubrick on Management.

The movie that marked Kubrick's emergence into the big time was "Paths of Glory," a 1957 film that starred Kirk Douglas, the ever-under-rated Ralph Meeker and Adolphe Menjou. "Paths of Glory," though nominally about WWI has taught me more about how not to manage and what not to like (or to despise) about management than anything else I have ever seen, read or experienced.

Here's the crux of the matter. Douglas, a lawyer while a civilian, is now a Captain in the French army. His command is pinned-down in a filthy trench facing a German barrage every time they make a move. The cinematography in the trench is seminal Kubrick. Handheld. There. You can smell the sweat, stink and fear. You can see the gristle, dirt and death.

Cut to Adolphe Menjou, an aristocratic General housed in a former palace miles from the front. He needs to make himself look good. He wants another bauble on his epaulette. So Menjou orders, by radio of course, Douglas' to have his men charge out of their trenches to a certain death. Ah, Glory!

Douglas' men comply and get slaughtered but some refuse. Menjou needs to assert command and has Douglas pick three soldiers at random for execution.

This is so often what happens in agencies. The fellas at the top have no sense of what life in a trench is like. And when firings come people are chosen while they are safe in their palaces.

I am thinking of Enfatico--one of about 79 "agencies of the future" who announced layoffs yesterday.

To the best of my knowledge, Enfatico has yet to produce a single ad for its only client, Dell. I'm sure that failure should not be borne by the people being schmised by the agency. I'm sure there are Enfatties at the "C-level" shaking their heads, tsk-ing, destroying and expensing car-service to their country places.

Paths of Glory.

A bit of poetry.

This is by William Carlos Williams a poet from the last century who knew how to find and take delight and joy in little things. These days we could all learn from his example.

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

-- William Carlos Williams

Now, I have re-written it. By a deposed banker in 2009.

This Is Just To Say, II

I have taken
home the
128 thousand dollar
carpet in my office

which was
paid for
with taxpayer money.

Forgive me
but my shit,

-- 100s of Bankers in the US.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"The United States Does Not Torture." --Barack Obama

Well then how do you explain the finance meetings I had to sit through today.

My leitmotif.

My leitmotif of the last few weeks, certainly my last couple of posts, has been about waste.

The waste that comes with the by committee approach to the creation, approval and production of marketing communications.

I am still working on spots I shot on October 14th. The client has some "tweaks." In fact they've had six months of "tweaks."

This can't be good. For either cost-control or communication.

When I was 25 and a neophyte in the business I would labor over a brief until I could write a sentence in eight words or less on what the client wanted to say. When I got to eight words in plain, simple English I would then find a way to make those words interesting.

No one worries about this crap today.
Today we worry about making meetings.
As I like to say, "It's not a communication, it's a negotiation."
No wonder we're in the mess we're in.
And I mean that in both macro and micro contexts.

Monday, February 23, 2009

We all bought into this.

And we are all being damned for it.

The "this" I'm talking about is the phrase "approval process." It caught me unawares, I'll admit. But all of a sudden, so it seems, an approval, which should take place at a fixed point in time, is a process that can extend over weeks or, who knows, maybe months or, who knows, maybe years.

But wait, it gets worse. Engineered within the phrase "approval process" is a democratization of feedback and comments. The process includes dozens of people whose feedback needs to be considered. Approval is no longer singular. It is plural. We don't seek approval on a piece of creative, through the approval process, we seek the plural--approvals.

Getting through the approval process becomes a goal unto itself. The approval process itself is one of time-lined compromise. If we do "X," we will get through this level. Doing "Y" will get us past this level. The approval process is something you get through, or better, something you have to navigate, though there isn't a boat or a navigable body of water in sight.

It seems to me that this issue is not only endemic to our profession but infects our world. Which could begin to explain how we got to where we are.

I was wondering about how some marketing departments go about decisioning.

Historians some decades from now will argue about what to call the era we are now tumbling through. We've had "The Gilded Age," "The Gay 90s," "The Roaring Twenties" and so forth. I'm for calling this "The Era of Bad Judgment." Or "The Group-Think Depression." Or "The Hubris Generation."

I just came upon this in The New York Times. Grant me a little spleen and then I will talk a bit about advertising. "Though seven major financial firms lost more than $100 billion since 2007, they have paid their top executives $464 million in performance pay since 1995."

OK, let's switch gears to the marketing geniuses behind the re-branding of Tropicana. I won't go into a peroration about the oft' derided Peter Arnell whose agency created the new campaign for Tropicana and designed its new packaging. Arnell does a dang good job deriding himself. Told Tropicana was going back to its old packaging, Arnell said "“Tropicana is doing exactly what they should be doing...I’m incredibly surprised by the reaction," [but] "I’m glad Tropicana is getting this kind of attention." Read the whole album of asininity here:

What amazes and amuses me about the stupidity of Arnell's work is the "decisioning" that must have taken place during the approval process. Let's take a moment and consider the tagline for the brand. "It's a natural." I can hardly for the life of me think of a more obvious or banal tag for a "natural" brand.

A Google search of the phrase in quotations yields 392,000 hits. The line is used by the Biological Weed Control Committee of the Weed Science Society of America (the first hit), by a Glendale, CA provider of natural gas for cars (hit two) and, hit three, Rev. John Carmichael of the Church of Scientology on the efficacy of drug-free child-birth.

That alone, you'd think, would kill a stupid, meaningless, over-used, un-original tagline. But decisioning kept it alive.

This is not a political commentary.

Just a link from my childhood to today. Excuse the self-indulgence.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ad Aged Oscar edition.

I have a collection of over 65 credit sequences on my hard-drive and on occasion I'll look at them for inspiration. Here's Saul Bass' titles from "Anatomy of a Murder." Directed by Otto Preminger with music by Duke Ellington. Wow.

And then, "To Kill a Mockingbird." With titles by Steve Frankfurt who was President of Y&R at the age of 36.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

All things to all people.

The impending death of Saab may be attributed to the worldwide recession and the severe drop in auto sales, but in this case, I blame not those factors alone, but imperial over-reach.

The Saab brand was built in this country as an iconoclast's car. It was odd-looking and had odd characteristics. Like the ignition was on the center console instead the steering stalk or to the right of the steering wheel.

And Saab, by all accounts prospered. At their peak back in 1986 they sold about 50,000 cars. That wasn't bad and was comparable to what BMW or Mercedes were selling in the US at the time. Saab had reached its constituency and pleased them.

Then they got greedy.

We can sell more cars if we downplay Saab's soul and play-up its mass-ness. So Saab changed its marketing. Changed its product. And went looking for more customers while forgetting what had created so many Saab zealots in the past.

In short, they homogenized and tried to massify. In so doing they lost their essence, their Saabness, their reason for being. Now they are on the brink of bankruptcy.

I wonder how many agencies have followed this pattern. They grew strong by helping small, quirky underdog brands with smart, feisty advertising. Then they sold to a holding company and had to go after the biggest brands. Before long agencies that followed this pattern lost their uniqueness and reason for being. (The agency that made Saab, by the way was an Alma Mater, Ally & Gargano, who merged with a bland agency in an attempt to satisfy its shareholders and win larger pieces of business.)

When you decide to massify, no matter what business you're in, you leave the business you were originally in. If you are a massifying small automaker and intend to grow large, you begin to compete not as an automaker, you compete on efficiency. How can you please the greatest number of people at the lowest possible cost. This is how advertising holding companies work today. Board meetings, I promise you, are about "scalability" "efficiency" and "reach."

I guess this is what they call selling out.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Un-jading myself.

As the world seems to collapse around us, as the Times writes about long lines at soup kitchens, as the stock market tumbles, it's not hard to become even more jaded than 30 years in the advertising industry would ordinarily render you.

So about a month ago I went to and ordered a book by Clive Challis called "Helmut Krone. The Book." (It's not currently available in the US.)

Because it's focused on one man's work, you get to see more than just Krone's opus. You get to see the workings of a mind that says every day and in every way, "I will not compromise."

Even in the best job there are a good number of days where you job sucks. If you're afflicted with even mild levels of neuroses, there are probably also a good number of days when you feel as if you've run out of ideas, or you're not cutting it on some level.

These are the feelings that we all have to fight through at one time or another. Order this book and you'll have a giant fighting alongside you.

Line-Item Management.

The agency at which I toil has a telco account. As a consequence a good percentage of people at the agency get a phone the company pays for. Meanwhile someone in faraway management decided to save money by making sure we phone users couldn't do something frivolous like downloading our own ringtones. Those 99 cent charges would cripple us. So everyone has the same ringtone. Everyone. Which means and I'm serious here, every time someone's cell phone rings about 100 people in the agency do the pocket-pat and start looking for their devices. No kidding, I figure I spend twenty minutes a day reaching for my phone to answer calls that aren't for me.

This is an extreme and ridiculous example of a new trend in our business and the world. I call it "Line-Item Management." This is where a company spends so much time scrutinizing costs that it actually costs them more money than they would otherwise save.

We are now rationalizing every line item on every estimate. We are now breaking aggregate costs into their component parts at which point batteries of client cost controllers kick them back and ask for more detail.

The New York City Subway probably works like this. The regular fare is $2. But it probably costs $1.75 to collect that fare. You've got thousands of token booths and fare machines. You have turnstiles and their maintenance. You have law enforcement. Then you have people not taking the subway because for short trips it costs not much less than a taxi.

Now imagine if you eliminated the fare. You'd lose some revenue but ridership would increase as would the productivity of the city and then, therefore, tax revenue. In short, we could all ride free and the city would benefit economically.

The advertising and marketing industries are now run by procurement. Large departments that produce nothing and cost a lot because a) they all have salaries and b) they force agencies to spend and spend and spend by accounting for their spending.

A couple thousand years ago Juvenal, the Roman poet pictured above asked, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" "Who will watch the watchers?"

Juvie, I've got the answer for you. No one.


When you come to think about it, a lot of my 1000+ posts over the last 20 months have been about testicles. Metaphorical testicles, of course.

By testicles I mean candor, making tough decisions, taking the paper away and saying no to dumbness or rudeness. As I think Bernbach said, "they're not principles until they cost you money." So by testicles I mean having principles.

If you're a CEO what do you do if two slides into a client presentation the lead client starts texting? Do you keep presenting as if you don't notice? Or do you stop the meeting and say something like, "We worked really hard on this presentation and are quite proud of it. If you need a few minutes before you give us your undivided attention, we'll take ten. OK?"

Maybe I'm in a testy mood because I've had three pitches in the last ten days and have been subject to a degree of rudeness on the part of various prospective clients and a degree of pusillanimity on the part of virtually everyone.

I suppose by testicles I really mean let's all us agency people join virtual hands and say "we are a profession. Treat us as well as you would treat an endodontist." Our profession will never get respect until we earn it by demanding it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The collapse of Saturn.

No, not the planet. The division of General Motors.

As Lincoln once said of America, Saturn was/is "the last best hope of earth" or at least of the auto industry. For a time, Saturn seemed like it could become the American Volkswagen. Though the actual cars they made when the brand launched weren't very good, Saturn represented an idea. The idea of doing things differently.

Of course, doing things differently--people-focused--was something GM could never abide. Though people proved they would flock to "a different kind of car" made by a "different kind of company," GM never supported the brand.

The brand never had a product line. And then its advertising, its position was blanderized into nothing more than just another piece of GM crap.

My point here is pretty simple.
GM will always do things GM's way.
Their failure is not about the Unions.
Or healthcare costs.
Their failure comes insisting on doing things their way.

Bailout money or not, as long as GM's management is allowed to persist
in its myopia, it will continue to atrophy.

As will Madison Avenue.
But more on that later.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Once again, I will affirm that I dislike sports.

Here is a stadium built by tax-payer money with the name of a tax-payer-bailed-out bank emblazoned all over its edifice, all to house steroid abusers in tight pants running around on plastic grass.

Pursuant to my previous two posts.

A bit more on brands and likeability.

Fifty years ago when the Big 3 were really big and in a sense ruled the economy of the US if not, de facto, the world (this was the era when people believed "What's good for GM is good for the country") GM and other corporate hegemonies adopted a tone that those of us in the baby-boom generation were comfortable with.

This tone was authoritative, from on-high, paternalistic, in the sense of "we know what's good for you." That tone was rampant in American corporate marketing for many decades. There was no need for the friendly or familiar. Those qualities, in fact, were the opposite of what people wanted from the companies they associated with. In a sense our parents' generation wanted a corporate Big Daddy.

Then, of course as it always does, the world changed. But it seems to me that the communications tonality of so many GM-like corporations didn't. They weren't there to help you, or serve you, or listen to you. And if something was wrong with whatever it is you bought from them, somehow that was your fault, or at least your problem.

Meanwhile, led by agencies like DDB and their advertising for such brands as VW, Avis and others, the zeitgeist changed. People wanted something different from brands. They wanted to like them, not just fear them. It seems to me that this is a lesson that so many marketers have never learned. Having worked miserably for two years on GM, I can't believe they will ever learn it.

Detroit, Detroit.

Hat in hand GM and Chrysler are begging for billions and billions on top of those billions. I know that for the sake of tens of thousands of workers, people who work for those two companies and their corollary suppliers, we are supposed to support the bailout, but I am not sanguine about it either Chrysler or GM turning around.

Here's why.

Brands are like people. We hang out with ones we like. Ones that are honest, smart, clever, fun, trustworthy. It's that simple.

I don't see GM or Chrysler in deed or in word making themselves likeable. In other words, they will remain brands that people don't want to associate with. These two companies will continue to gobble up our billions. And continue to produce substandard merchandise and sell it with substandard marketing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quip from a friend.

A friend of mine, an account person, is looking for work. So I made a call on his behalf to another friend at one of those venerable Madison Avenue shops. He replied with this pithy statement, "We're contracting faster than a woman with octuplets."

An interesting debate on

Will "brand America" regain its shine? Read about it and vote (early and often) here.

Flash! This just in.

From the inimitable New York Times: Pet Chimp Is Shot to Death After Mauling Woman

A 200-pound pet chimpanzee in Stamford, Conn., Monday viciously mauled a woman he had known for years, leaving her critically injured with much of her face torn away, the authorities said. The animal was shot dead by the police after he assaulted an officer in his car.

Monday, February 16, 2009

One of my fancy-schmancy bibliophile sites just sent an email titled 30 books you might read for the cover alone
If you go to the link above you'll see some examples of what I think is some pretty good design and art direction. The three I've posted here I especially like. I guess I like ideas no matter where I find them.

John Kenneth Galbraith on Meetings.

Right now I am reading John Kenneth Galbraith's history "The Great Crash 1929," the chilling story of the advent of the Great Depression. Galbraith is not only a noted economist he is also a darn good writer who laces his prose with wit and sarcasm. His satirical observations about the value of meetings are worth reprinting here.

"Men meet together for many reasons in the course of business. They need to instruct or persuade each other. They must agree on a course of action. They find thinking in public more productive or less painful than thinking in private. But there are at least as many reasons for meetings to transact no business. Meetings are held because men seek companionship or, at a minimum, wish to escape the tedium of solitary duties. They yearn for the prestige which accrues to the man who presides over meetings, and this leads them to convoke assemblages over which they can preside. Finally, there is the meeting which is called not because there is business to be done, but because it is necessary to create the impression that business is being done. Such meetings are more than a substitute for action. They are widely regarded as action."

Galbraith wrote this in 1955. I wonder what he would make of Microsoft Meeting Maker.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blue rooms.

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times ran an article that blue rooms can bring out peoples' creativity and imagination.
If you can't repaint your entire agency, you might want to consider this painting by Rothko. The particular Rothko shown here was recently auctioned in London and sold for 300,000 pounds less than the asking price. So a bargain. And I like the colors.

The Obama Strategy.

I am not, and have never been, a zealot for Obama. But watching his press-conference last Monday taught me something about the man, and believe it or not, something about life.

There were about thirty-two thousand things that could have crossed up Obama's campaign. Rev. Wright, his opposition to suspension of the gasoline tax, white backlash, black backlash and so on. The same can be said, of course, of Obama's press conference and his efforts to pass a stimulus package. But what Obama adopts is a positive version of the thousand-yard stare. He looks beyond the quotidian slings and arrows of life, of Washington B.S. And instead, keeps his eyes on the prize.

It seems to me, that most clients and most agencies believe that the end occurs or impends every two or three days. At that point they lurch like mad and address their current crisis. The have no linchpin, no end-point that keeps them balanced.

This is the strength of Obama and the strength of decent agencies. There are storms that must be weathered but they will be better weathered if we are focused on where we want to be. In other words if we think long-term not crazy crisis.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Like the rest of the known world I am concerned if not outright worried about the longevity of my current job. So, I check my linked-in account with some regularity to see if any of my friends and associates have skyrocketed and might, in a time of need, have something for me beyond a smile and a handshake.

Today, three of my connections had their titles updated. These are all people I know for ten years or more. And I no longer have any idea of what they do.

Vice President - Decision Management at
Marketing Design Coordinator
VP, Global Brand Systems

Decision management? Marketing design? Brand systems?

No wonder we're going to hell in a handbasket.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Two musical interludes.

The seminal song of the Great Depression. And my update written on the verge of Depression 2.0.

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

"Brother Can You Spare A Mac?"

Once I wrote commercials, I made them good, I was never a hack,
Now I can't get freelance; it's all dried up. Brother, can you spare a Mac?
Once I won a pencil, a Clio too and always dressed in black,
Now I'm pounding pavements; there is no work. Brother, can you spare a Mac?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Don't bother me I'm decisioning.

Decisioning is a new word that has reared its ugly tongue of late. For whatever reason the phrase "decision-making" is no longer good enough.

A bit of vaudeville this morning.

The unveiling of the $16 million renovation of the 80-year-old vaudeville theater the Beacon impels me to write of a hero of mine who died Tuesday night--also an old vaudevillian. Moshe "Soupy" Weinstock teamed with Schmuel "Slappy" Tenenbaum (my uncle) to form the comedy team "Bacon and Eggs." Soupy played "Bacon" and Slappy played "Eggs." They'd open their act like this...

"We're Bacon and Eggs,
We're pals and we're chums,
When one of us is singing,
The other one hums!

We're Bacon and Eggs,
We're Bacon and Eggs,
When one of us is broke,
The other one begs."

Here are a few "bits" I remember.

BACON: My friend has been elected mayor.
EGGS: Honestly?
BACON: What does that matter?


BACON: My father killed a hundred men in the war.
EGGS: What was he? A Gunner?
BACON: Nope, a cook.


BACON: I want to ask for the hand of your daughter in marriage.
EGGS: You’re an idiot!
BACON: I know it. But I didn’t suppose you’d object to another one in the family.

Nothing about advertising this morning. Just some recollections of a time when comedy was king.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Newsweek catches on.

I found this in Thomas Friedman's op-ed today in The New York Times.

"Newsweek had an essay this week that began: “Could Silicon Valley become another Detroit?” Well, yes, it could."

I posed the same question about Madison Avenue going on two years ago now.

Remember kiddies, when I want your opinion I'll give it to you.

A bit more on tardy account people.

The Ad Contrarian turned me onto this. A video of every curse ever uttered on The Sopranos in order.

My mood.

A modest mother-fucking proposal.

Last night at 2:45 AM I completed the 4,372nd new business pitch in which I sat through myriad excruciating reviews of the creative work (reviews that required the creative people to rush their ideas, rush their revisions, rush their executions)yet didn't see the account peoples' written answers until moments before the deck had to release.

This will be the last time that happens. I've ordered a few new machines for the office that are more valuable than an HP plotter. See above.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I've got a streak going.

This is the second day in a row I've had a cab driver whose name consists solely of vowels.

While I'm on the subject of specious ads.

Communication Arts annual Advertising issue seems to be chock-full of ads that I don't believe ever ran in legitimate circles. (The East Anchorage Pennysaver doesn't count.) If you are among the legion of regular readers of Ad Aged you know I am an inveterate reader. And the scope of my reading includes "women's books," magazines like "Redbook," "Home & Garden" etc. Yet I have never seen a clever ad for Tide the likes of which dot the aforementioned issue of CA.

All of which leads me to pen this ditty:

"I think that I have never seen,
A Granger ad in a magazine.
It doesn't matter how hard I looks,
They only run in annual books."

Creativity Magazine.

I get in the mail, for free, mind you, Advertising Age's "Creativity" magazine, also known as the liturgy of the Church of Bogusky.

I find magazines like this masturbatory. New permutations of the trend du jour. Seldom do I find anything that leads me to remark "that's a smart idea." Instead, a lot of visual puns.

Now here is today's question: How is it possible that the game "Scrabble" inspires so many brilliant spread ads in countries around the world? It seems that Neil French practically made a career of doing Scrabble ads and in this issue of "Creativity" there's another. (And not event a very good ad if you ask me.) How is it that a board game seems to have a bigger ad budget than virtually any other advertiser? How is it that they run only spreads?

Dear Award Show Judges and Hagiographic Magazine Editors: Please don't print ads or give accolades to ads that haven't actually run. Thank you.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The last "ding" of doom.

The word I hear these days with vomitous frequency is "dinged." Oh, the client "dinged" us because we were late with the presentation. Or, I got "dinged" because my boss didn't like the copy. Or the CEO is on a rampage, you'd better do your timesheets or you'll get dinged.


This is the lowest form or pusillanimity. For Crissakes have the honesty to say your client's an ass for getting pissed your work is late. Or that you screwed up by not showing something to your boss or whatever.

Using the word "ding" is like an airline saying there's a "delay" when you sit on the runway for three hours. No, there's a major fuck-up. Ding is namby-pamby dangerous gentility.

I can't imagine a headline in a newspaper saying "6,000,000 Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals Dinged by Nazis in Massive Network of Ding-Camps." "Car Bomb Dings 37 in Baghdad Mosque." "Katrina Dings New Orleans. 250,000 Evacuated."

Thinking of Chester Himes.

Chester Himes was the great black author of over 20 novels, the most famous of which, "Cotton Comes to Harlem," was made into a pretty good movie. His great characters Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones appeared in many Himes' novels, including "Blind Man With a Pistol" which was published 40 years ago.

Blind man with a pistol.

You ask me, it sounds like a management style.

Shuffling cinder blocks.

Last week according both to a company memo and an article in Adweek, DraftFCB "shuffled its leadership team." OK, I said, reading the headline, finally someone at DraftFCB realizes they need a real overhaul. They have done nothing but lose business and revenue over the last two years. Even if financially DraftFCB were status quo, their work is lackluster at best. At last, I say, a shot in the arm is coming.

Then I read the article.

Now, I'll admit I am naive. I always thought shuffling involved seriously mixing things up. Apparently not at DraftFCB. What shuffling means in their context is that the C-level white men who have presided over DraftFCB's mediocrity have either added more grandiose titles to their business cards or swapped titles with each other. Howard Draft is no longer Chief Executive Officer, instead he is Executive Chairman. Laurence Boschetto, formerly Chief Operating Officer and President is now Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer and President. And Jonathan Harries, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer is now also a Vice Chairman. Draft praised Boschetto and Harries for their "Herculean efforts on behalf of the company." Herculean is great. But what if you suck?

Here's the way Ad Aged reads these well-deserved promotions. Management at DraftFCB has found a way, amid massive layoffs and business setbacks, to give itself raises.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Steroidal States of America.

I am not a sports fan. I watch maybe ten hours of televised sports a year, though occasionally I'll run up to Columbia and take in a basketball or a football game which my alma mater will invariably lose, but sports don't matter a whit to me. Yet, out of habit I suppose, I still read the sports page, or at least I glance at it.

Today I read that one of the greatest baseball players of our age, Alex Rodriguez, was found to have been using steroids back in 2003. Somehow I coupled sports and steroids with Tom Dashcle, John Thain, and the seeming collapse of our economic system.

Steroids if you think about it are a get rich quick scheme played out through biceps. You don't need to do the work, but you get the rewards. And nothing is more important than success, certainly not integrity. The only thing that matters, in fact, is accumulation.

It occurs to me that this steroidal mania explains Dashcle. A man for whom nothing mattered in the end but his fast enrichment. Or John Thain. Or those millions of homeowners who got on the steroidal jag and forgot that homes are places to live and love, not just financial investment instruments. All of America has been on this jag. We can all get rich quick. No waiting required. The world will come to an end if your pizza takes more than 30 minutes to arrive.

We live in an instant microwave era. Everything must happen in a blink. Riches, relationships, even writing (witness "blogging," which is often writing without thought.") As a culture we are all on steroids and silicon. We want abs of steel and bulging, fantasy accomplishments with neither the risk of failure nor the sweat of hard work.

I'm not sure if any of this makes any sense. Or what to do about any of it if it does add up. Or if anything will change our love of the quick buck. It's just something that hit me between the eyes this morning. A Spring Winter's day in New York.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

From the Times and excellent.

This is the artwork from an article called: "What's Your New Plan B?"

Thank you, Somerset Maugham.

I came across this quotation some years ago and it's stuck with me. It has always seemed a handy way to describe those agency and/or client "human resources" who don't get it--you know, the bulk of people.

"She plunged into a sea of platitudes, and with the powerful breast stroke of a channel swimmer, made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious."

Friday, February 6, 2009

News Flash.

I don't want to go to my 2:30.

Consider the source.

Fasten your seatbelts, hold onto your hats, I'm about to be optimistic.

Everyday we are being besieged by stories of economic gloom and doom. Of the collapse of the world financial system. Of TEOTWAWKI (a genre so popular it has its own acronym) The End of the World as We Know It.)

I'd like to take exception. Undoubtedly the economic situation is bad. Maybe even dire. 598,000 people lost their jobs last month. These are serious issues. But consider this: the unemployment rate for those with a college education is less than 4%. And even at 7.6% unemployment, 92.4% of people have jobs. Obviously, this is no consolation to those without jobs, but hold on a second and consider what's happening.

The same people who create graphics and blare out drivel about the impending "perfect storm," or "a katrina like disaster," or "winter storm watch 9000" are the same people who are trumpeting about our economic throes. Yes, we are in serious straits. No, we will not all wind up eating from garbage pails.

In 1933, when FDR took office the unemployment rate in Toledo, Ohio was 80%. The national employment rate was over 25%. Children were working in coal mines for a dollar a day and large swaths of the country had no electricity. People were starving to death.

What's happening now is scary. I am scared too. But try, above all else, to keep things in perspective. And don't forget to be a mensch and help your fellow man.

The advertising economic stimulus plan.

All of us in agency-land are being told (usually by people who have never created an ad) that we must be more efficient, we must cut down our hours, that we must produce more and do it with fewer people. The holding companies, those monoliths that most-often are our true creative directors, are demanding it. So, they say, push harder, demand more, come up with your ideas quicker--as if we could microwave creativity.

Well, as my ex-boss used to say, "here's the thing." Here's the thing, there's one way to improve agency efficiency. Eliminate meetings. Or, if you can't eliminate meetings demand that the meeting caller writes a short brief on the meeting: What's to be accomplished, who will do it, when will they do it by, when will re reconvene. Limit the length of meetings to twenty minutes and have a concise agenda with real life objectives. Also, have meetings standing up. No chairs. People think better while standing and progress will be made quicker.

I spend seven hours a day, at least, in meetings. Most people of my ilk do. If you want to stimulate, eliminate.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I don't approve.

I'm thinking this morning about perfection (and no, I haven't been spending time in front of the mirror, my chiseled abs glistening with sweat from my morning workout.) The sort of perfection I'm thinking of is different. It is perfection that has as its opposite experimentation.

Here's the struggle we are confronting now with our "stimulus package" and with most of the advertising we attempt to create, sell and produce.

If you think about it we literally go through months of agony making an ad campaign (or even a single ad) perfect. Some of this is the anal-ness of agencies. Some of it is the anal-ness of clients. After we have an idea we revise, revise, revise. We address concerns, concerns, concerns. We include this scintilla of information that was missing. We make it perfect, then subject it to focus groups and perfect it some more.

This is why it takes us so long to actually get work in the market. At which point it's so perfect is sucks.

The other way is to try something. To capitalize on what's in the news. To exploit a quick hit. To be extemporaneous and topical.

A decade and a half ago I got fired from FCB. Even though I probably produced more work (and more good work) than anyone else in the network. Here's why I got fired (besides being "insubordinate" according to HR.) I got fired because when you make something people can sit in judgment of it--they can shoot at it. If all you do is talk about what you're going to do, or supervise work, you are unassailable. The same holds true in clientville.

Doing equals screwing.
Inaction is job satisfaction.

Work is never perfect. You can't step into the same river twice. But it is always better to do something than to do nothing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


GEIFY stands for George Explains It For You.

1002 posts ago, on June 4, 2007, Ad Aged premiered, if I may use that pompous word to describe my first post. Mostly I intended to wrestle with this question: will the advertising industry make itself obsolete as the American auto industry has?

Back then, the world was a different place. A trifle of research revealed that the Dow hit an all-time high on June 4th. It closed at 13,679.57. No, that is not a typo.
Today the Dow is 5,500 points lower and Detroit is announcing its worst January in 27 years, with sales down something like 50%.

The parallels to the ad industry are self-evident. I could pull in twenty unemployed creatives today and from a sheer talent perspective we could compete if not pale the likes of a Goodby. Meanwhile the hemorrhaging continues and no staunch is in sight.

Here's the GEIFY part. Governments, societies, families and ad agencies must must must operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. Our economy crashed not on account of housing or anything like that. We crashed because we cut taxes while spending $600 billion on a war. The ad industry is crashing because we provide services and then are timorous about charging for them. Or has focused on awards when we should have focused on sales.

I suppose if I were Greek I would say that Hubris is what's done us in. And no, hu-bris has nothing to do with Jewish circumcision and every thing to arrogance in the face of whatever god you believe in--it's what leads to the fall of men, governments and empires.

Hubris. The death of Detroit. The come-uppance of Madison Avenue--and a reckoning around the world.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Here's a novel idea.

It is an emanation devoutly to be wished that somebody smarter than I, or more famous than I, or smarter about getting himself PR than I, will Christen the era I believe we're about to enter "The Back to Basics Era."

We have for so long sold sizzle instead of hormone-enhanced steak. We have for so long judged people according to the size of their bank accounts or the decibel level of their bluster. We have for so long prized bombast over logic.

"A url in the spot will ruin it."
"That's too 'selly.'"
"It's not subtle enough."

Right now in the ad industry, there is (I am speaking broadly here) a lacuna between work that wins awards and work that drives revenue and builds brands. Salient product features, permissions to believe, unique selling propositions are, at least to awards show judges and the agencies that kowtow to those judges, passe. No one seems to care that a Bud ad could be Miller ad, the fucking horse ones notwithstanding.

My guess is that the commercial here will win all sorts of awards. It will earn its creators all sorts of plaudits and they will get fat new titles, fat new jobs and maybe skinny new wives. But this spot could be about any product. There is no innate-ness in it. Therefore, it sucks. Eyebrows my arse.

My idea here is simple, and something I stole from an agency I worked at twenty years ago, "Impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way." That is communication. Most of what we see is communturbation.

Look at the two spots embedded here. Which works? Which is about the brand? Taking out age-bias, which would get you a job today?

Honeyshed, We Hardly Knew Ye.

As a matter of fact, Honeyshed, we didn't know thee.

OK, a bit of background for those readers over 25 in chronological age or under 25 in IQ. Honeyshed, a product of either David Droga's genius or hubris was hailed, when it soft-launched back in November, 2007, in a well inserted press release in business week as "a combination of MTV and QVC." On their site they claim to be "reinventing shopping for the digital generation."

In point of fact there was no there there. Cleavage hawking products. Or gangstas hawking products. Coupled with oh-so-clever language like "fun shit," in a strained effort to show young people how terribly hip Honeyshed was/is. Reportedly Publicis sunk $25 million of its shareholders' dough into the star-crossed jerk-off but despite the charisma of Droga and the money of Levy, they built it and customers, as Yogi might have said, stayed away in droves.

I never saw the point to Honeyshed. The products looked like they came from a shit shed and watching illiterates talk about crap never appealed to me.

BTW, the Ad Contrarian pointed this out in reference to the Stupor Bowl: "Seventy-seven percent of the wealth in America is controlled by people over 50. Exactly which Super Bowl spots did America's marketing geniuses direct at these people?" The same can be asked about Honeyshed. Meaning, why spend so much dough selling to people without it?

My issue is simpler. Once again in a blatant act of pandering to new technology, people felt the need to reinvent a basic human act:shopping. Shopping is shopping. It needn't be reinvented. It hasn't changed since we traded lice-picking for bananas.

Maybe the issue with Honeyshed lies with its name.
It should have been called Moneyshed.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I just got an email auto-reply.

That said:

"For Monday, 2/2, I will be out of the office but checking email frequently. If your matter is urgent and/or timely, please indicate by using "URGENT" in the subject line. Thank you."

Reading this I wondered what you should put in the subject line if your matter is NOT urgent and/or timely. Right now I'm going with "Time Suck." Later on in the day I might change that to "Utterly Superfluous."

Advertising and 14-year-old Toyota Camrys.

There's a 14-year-old dark green Toyota Camry in my neighborhood with a "For Sale" sign in its rear window. When I saw it I immediately asked myself, "who would buy a 14-year-old Camry?" and that got me thinking.

Camrys are good cars. And this particular Camry is in mighty good condition. There isn't a dent on it and not a single spot of rust. The shape of the car itself isn't bad either--the car doesn't look half-bad.

Now hold onto your hat and fasten your three-point seat-belt, here's what all this has to do with the advertising industry. nine-tenths of all advertising agencies, it seems to me, are 14-year-old Camrys. There's nothing wrong with them, per se but despite all the innovations in the world--air bags, anti-lock brakes, mp3 hookups, run-flat tires, etc. these cars just hasn't kept up. They will still get you from point "A" to point "B" but there are other ways to travel that distance that are faster, safer, more ecological and requiring less maintenance.

If you run an agency, think of your agency as a car. The world changes almost completely roughly every three years. So you should look at your agency every three years or so, and make sure it's still up to snuff. Otherwise you'll be left with a 14-year-old Toyota.

12 hours later.

I hardly remember a single spot I saw. Ed MacMahon,, that's about it.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

XXV years of Super Bowl commercials.

The New York Times has a feature today of some of the top Super Bowl commercials of the last 25 years. They also have data--ads by category, what percentage feature celebrities, animals and animal celebrities.

You can view it here.

Unfortunately, my big Super Bowl spot came early in my career, back in 1983--a more innocent time. The jingle I wrote for a fast-food chain called Mr. Veal Chop went something like this:

"Grab a satchel of veal-chops,
They're so nice and lean,
Mr. Veal Chop's got 'em,
Oh, you know what I mean.

Have a bucket of brussel sprouts,
They're the perfect side-dish,
Only at Mr. Veal Chop,
Scratch your gourmet itch!

Mr. Veal Chop is open,
Twenty-four and seven,
Mr. Veal Chop's veal chop,
They're a small chop of heaven."

Depression 2.0.

This morning, finishing up a run in Central Park, I looked around at all the people carrying paper cups of $4 coffee, I watched a parade of expensive German cars drive through the transverses and I saw logo-adorned-tourist after logo-adorned-tourist traipse by wielding expensive Japanese equipment. I wondered what would happen if we have a real live depression.

When I came to Manhattan 30 years ago to attend Columbia University, the island was a different place. There were Greek coffee shops on about every fourth corner that were reasonably-priced. You could get a decent cup of Joe for about 35 cents. There were also Army/Navy stores where the merchandise didn't have to be periodically marked down 70%. There were bakeries, not bake shops, and newsstands and hamburger places that weren't parts of multi-national chains. There were places you could get service, like independent bookstores. Places you could get things repaired. And movie theaters that would have Charlie Chaplin festivals with one $5 ticket getting you in for a whole day's worth of films.

I suppose this is the nostalgia of an old man. I remember when you could by a Park Avenue co-op for 85 cents and an Oldsmobile for under a quarter. But really my nostalgia isn't for lower prices, it's for simpler merchandise. For sneakers without irony. For tee shirts that didn't need faux-witty sayings. For glasses that were just glasses, not an advertisement for Dolce & Gabbana. My nostalgia is for a time when conspicuous consumption was derogated not applauded.

I don't want anyone to lose their home or their job. But you know what, I think we'd all be better off if some of our greedy chickens came home to roost.

Reporting from Davos.

Finding things on Madison Avenue a bit slow, I decided to take the Ad Aged corporate jet and fly to Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum and maybe indulge in my favorite meal: Swiss steak topped with Swiss cheese.

Not much news to report from Davos. But I did hear one good, dark joke:

"What is the capital of Iceland?"