Thursday, April 30, 2009

Daily dumbness update.

Just ran across this ad in The New York Times online.

Let's count the inanities in this 2"x2" space. The incidents that betray the fact that General Motors refuses to treat the customer like anything but an imbecile.

1. The Total Confidence logo is completely un-done by the line "get program details & limitations." It's Total Confidence, I guess, with limitations.
2. The use of the word "unprecedented." As in "buying a car from a company going out of business is virtually unprecedented."
3. They never say the name of the car.

Lost and found.

70 years ago a Robert Capa lost of a cache of negatives that came to be called "The Mexican Suitcase." These were recently found--and found to be in "remarkably good condition." You can read the story and see a dozen or so photos here. It's worth the trip.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Clever retail ad.

No, that's not an oxymoron. Or at least it shouldn't be.

Lest we forget.

Jean Halliday of Advertising Age has an article today that chronicles the soon-to-be-defunct (or defuct) Pontiac's advertising through the years. You can read the article here and see images of the ads here

Amid all the reasons for Pontiac's demise, let's not forget this one. Their advertising has always been full of bombast and bluster. It was never consistent from year to year. It reflects that they never knew who they were as a company or brand.

Boys and girls, advertising does make a difference. It won't stop a bad brand from dying. But bad, bland advertising doesn't help anything.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The value of advertising agency holding companies.

The holding company for which I work lost over three score and ten million dollars last quarter. But fear not, we still employ a Chief Risk Officer. And from that Chief Risk Officer, I just received an email about Swine Flu.

I've quoted my favorite part of the memo below.

The following methods can reduce your chances of contracting swine flu:

* Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, ideally with a tissue.

Thank you. I never knew that.

Advertising today.

"Man, my swine flu is killing me," I said to my art director.

The phone crackled "huh, we must have a bad connection I can hardly hear you."

Naturally, my art director wasn't in my office with me. He was working out of our Bangalore office--cheaper that way. We could pay him in potato skins and grapefruit rinds.

"I said, my swine flu is killing me" still trying to make conversation but thinking I'd be better off washing my hands for the fourth time since I arrived at work two hours earlier.

"You'll have to speak up," he responded. "The ice-cap has melted and the office is under four-feet of water."

"Forget it. Enough dilly-dallying. We have to concept on a brand spot for a Fortune 50 client. But our budget is only $30K because they are getting TARP funding and don't want to look profligate."

"Why don't we use stock photos," he parried. "Kind of a Ken Burns' thing."

"Great idea," I conceded.

At that moment, an account guy darkened my doorway and I gracefully got off the phone promising to continue our brainstorming later.

"Forget about that spot," the suit intoned. "The client just went into chapter 11. Their market cap is less than the cost of a Bud at the Tip Top Tap."


"Dead," he answered.

"Does that mean there's no job number to bill my time against?" I inquired.

"Can't help you with that one, big guy. You're on your own with finance." Account people. They're not worth the ice in a dry martini.

As if on cue, finance was on the line. It seems I had had twelve minutes of downtime the previous week and they wanted to know what was up.

"Mexican food," I explained.

"We've already warned you about that. The optimum diet for maximum billability is white bread, yogurt with inactive cultures and unripe bananas."

"Got it," I said. Making a mental note of it. "I won't let it happen again."

My assistant then poked her head in, "You're two minutes late for your 'Respect in the Workplace Training.'

As Sartre wrote: "Everything began to spin and I found myself sitting on the ground: I laughed so hard I cried"

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bye, bye Miss American Pie.

It seems that Pontiac along with over 20,000 GM workers are being cashiered. I use the word "cashiered" because most of those workers will likely wind up with nothing better than cashiering jobs at fast-food restaurants.

Does it feel like it's the opposite of Morning Again in America? That the whole country is in financial, spiritual, and medical arrears?

Our hospitals don't work. We have little industrial base left. Our public schools are failing. Our cities and infrastructure are in decay. Even our military--recipient of over $600 billion/yr. in expenditures is over-stretched.

It's Monday Again in America.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Yesterday morning in New York.

As I walked down the subway steps at W. 86th Street, alongside a 30-something blonde, a small Norwegian gray rat scampered up. The blonde exclaimed in an English accent, "what is a possum doing in the subway." "Lady, that's a rat," was my laconic reply.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Worry Chic.

I remembered this article from 21 1/2 years ago from The New York Times, and I happened to be able to find it online.

For whatever reason, it's helped me this afternoon.

Published: Thursday, January 7, 1988

Don't relax. There's always something to worry about. Herpes, crack and nuclear holocaust have not gone away but have become passe worries. A trendy era obeys fashion even in its fretting. Here are some worries that have already infected 1988.

There may be urethane in the wine.

There may be parasites in the sushi.

Radon, an insidious, invisible, radioactive gas, could be seeping into your basement.

There is too much ozone in the air you breathe, which damages the lungs.

There is too little ozone in the stratosphere, which lets in ultraviolet rays that burn the skin.

The world may get too warm, because sunlight is being trapped, as in a greenhouse, by the growing veil of gases spewed out by burning coal.

The world will get too cold if the next ice age arrives before the greenhouse effect does.

The dollar may make a strong recovery, ruinously reversing improvements in the balance of trade.

You may suffer a heart attack if you exercise too little.

You may suffer a heart attack if you exercise too much.

Even if the wine has no urethane, it probably contains sulfites. Or the beer may. And in any case, both are laden with a more pernicious chemical -alcohol.

Does all this mean that modern life is burdening Americans with more and more worries? No -just different ones. Worries grow stale and need to be changed. It's the disposition to worry that endures.

Pursuant to my last post.

There's another way to look at advertising and efficacy. It is also simple. Advertising that works has news value that allows it to breakthrough.

I just came across the news that BMW's Mini Cooper is building a car called the Mini Chameleon. Not because it will continue to live if its tail falls off, but because it changes color with the weather.

We've had cars for 120 years.
This is a first.
This is news.
This car--whether it sells in profitable quantities or not, will allow Mini to stay cool, stay newsworthy and create buzz.

There's even some functionality involved. The car's color brightens in low-visibility rainy weather.

But of course, that's not the point.
The point is Mini are getting noticed.
That's the point.
That's advertising.

Size matters.

I don't know if was an Ogilvy-ism or just something I've picked up along the way. But I've always subscribed to the notion that "small companies run small ads." Conversely "big companies run big ads."

I am reminded of this, once again, by Apple who today have the digital equivalent of a spread running on the The ad heralds the sale of Apple's billioneth app and features apple app icons flying over the masthead and throughout the lion's share of the page.

Meanwhile most other "major" advertisers are running their usual thumbnails which of course no one outside of a conference room at client-ville ever even sees.

Of course you can extrapolate from my small/big thesis above when you get to actual websites. In an effort to be all things to all people, most websites have no featured item. There is no hierarchy. No place to look first. No compelling promise to the viewer.

Oh well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Today's omen.

"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls..."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Every once in a while.

I need to toss out a one-liner and/or a wife joke.

I'm planning to move to a state that's banned straight marriage.

Please pass this along to everyone you know.

I just want to write.
I want to take a complicated client problem and derive a simple solution that has a
positive impact ultimately on sales.

I don't want to do timesheets.
I don't want to go to meetings.
I don't want to deal with the new new new thing which is in the end only an ephemera.
I don't want to deal with backstabbing and undercutting and politics.
Or big egos compensating for small dicks.

I want to be left alone to write.

I think it would be good for business. Your business.
But maybe my desire is as out-dated as the machine in the picture above.


I just saw an article in the online New York Times on the 50th Anniversary of "Elements of Style," the guide to writing well. I found this mid-way through the piece.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers,” Dorothy Parker once wrote, “the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of ‘The Elements of Style.’ The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

These days.

I usually get to work early--regardless of how deep I am wallowing in my personal or professional sloughs of despond. Today I arrived before the receptionist and swiped my keycard.

The light stayed yellow. It did not turn to green.

I swiped it again. Locked.

OK. I'm deactivated.


Ah, as The Kinks almost sang, "the paranoia is gonna destroy ya."
O tempore, o mores.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Driving over the Triboro Bridge this morning I see the giant neon sign for what most people call The History Channel. Only a lot of the neon is gone.

Monday, April 20, 2009

An apropos photo.

My daughter Hannah is an accomplished scuba diver and underwater photographer. This is a picture of a moray eel that she took in Cozumel, Mexico about six months ago.

For whatever reason it reminds me of advertising.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A headline for the age.

Last night I saw Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," with Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Glover and John Goodman.

Estragon (Nathan Lane) stole the show with this line: "There's no lack of void."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I don't understand.

I just saw a small ad in tomorrow's New York Times magazine section for something called the Persuade(R) Dual Flush Toilet by Kohler.

It made me wonder why you name a toilet "persuade." Not to mention who approved the name?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Picasso and advertising.

There is in our industry a fascination with the ephemera of youth. As the Ad Contrarian has so astutely pointed out, "We love new things and hate old things. Just look at the advertising we create.

People over the age of 50 control 77% of the wealth of this country. Please show me one Super Bowl ad this year that was directed at them.

The average American buys 13 cars in his lifetime -- 8 of them after the age of 50. When is the last time you saw an old person in a car ad?"

This morning I read an article in The New York Times by Roberta Smith called "'Picasso: Mosqueteros' Going All Out, Right to the End." I particularly liked this quotation: "In the last 10 years of his life, Picasso raised his game. Everything was pushed to a new place in his work." You can read the entire article here:

Much of the work in the exhibition, by the way, was created when Picasso was in his late 70s.

I spent the morning thinking about Dante.

That is, I spent some time thinking about who should occupy the lowest ring of Hell.

1. Headhunters who call hot and heavy and then don't call back.
2. People who consistently show up late and never apologize--your time, after all, is unimportant.
3. Look-ists (that's an analogue to racist, sexist, ageist.) People who think you aren't cool because you eschew dressing like all the other cool people or you don't do all the unique and individual things that cool people all do together.
4. Jargon-javelins. The slingers of techno-bs who attempt via circumlocutions to negate the basic truths of powerful communication.
5. Aesthetes. Aespecially aesthetes in aedvertising.

These are my nominees.
I welcome yours.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This morning I ran headlong into an allegory.

I am fifty-one years old and there are days--weeks maybe--when I feel like all my advertising experience, training and expertise are excoriated and dismissed by the poseurs and posturers and the picayuned penised who, like locusts, infest our industry.

This morning, Thursday April 16th, on the street near the gutter I saw a Christmas tree someone had finally gotten rid of almost four-months late.

It had outlived its usefulness. It was no longer needed. I identified with it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Car wars in Santa Monica.

What's the worst that could happen?

I was on my way to work this morning, fairly brimming with ideas. My fingers ready to dance over the keyboard, spinning out protean quantities of art in the service of commerce.

Another Wednesday in Fun City.

As I walked down the steps to the subway, I almost immediately noticed something was amiss. The platform was bursting to the seams with Somali pirates. They were everywhere, belts of bullets criss-crossing their barrel-chests, parrots fluttering upon their shoulders, hooks glistening in the fluorescence and the unmistakable sound of peglegs on concrete.

Before I could wheel around and look for the M-15 bus, I was taken hostage. Bound and gagged (and not in a good way)and on my way to New Lots Avenue out in Brooklyn.
Fortunately after about an hour I was rescued by a troop of transit cops and I was back on my way to work. No harm done.

Yep, another day, another hostage situation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Adweek's 2008 Agency Report Cards.

I've been following Adweek's agency report card since they started publishing them some 26 years ago. Maybe it's just my mood, but never before have I seen such disparity between the grades Adweek metes out for "Creative" and the grade they give for "Numbers."

Here's what I mean.
Arnold got a B for creative. A C- for numbers.
BBH, an A- for creative, a D for numbers.
Ogilvy a B+ for creative, an F for numbers.

It occurs to me that these grades are indicative of a cataclysmic problem in our industry. There is a divorce, a chasm, a breach, an abyss between what wins creative accolades and what drives sales--what builds brands.

In other words, so much creative is judged by a false standard of "creativity." Not by the one true standard of efficacy (however you define that.) If creative was working there would be no "A" for creativity and "D" for numbers. Because creativity would drive client results would drive agency growth.

Ok, I'm in a shit-fuck mood. And that's all for now.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The emphatic end of Enfatico.

Enfatico's website is still living though the agency itself is dead. Perhaps it was morbid curiosity, but I took a look at the "Our Team" section of their site, and here's what I saw:


* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Executive Officer
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Operating Officer
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
President, Consumer Solutions
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Financial Officer
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Talent Officer
* Xxxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Digital Officer
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Creative Officer
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Analytics Officer
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Communications Officer
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Media Officer
* Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx,
Chief Technology Officer

10 Chief ____________ Officers and one President, all for an agency with no ostensible business.

I wonder who their Chief Too Many Chiefs Officer is.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Something about which to think.

I just read an obituary of a WWII hero who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for a whole host of heroics before that word was tarnished by politicians and news-mongerers. You can read the obituary here. and it's certainly worthwhile.

Here's my point, that is if I have one at all. This guy fought off a trillion Germans, wiped out machine-gun nests singe-handedly and perhaps most amazingly hid from the Nazis in a barrel of sauerkraut (I'm not making this up.)

All we do is create ads that for the most part are either a blight on our culture or fail to sell a product or service.

As I like to say, STFUADYJ.*

*Shut the fuck up and do your job.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

(I don't want no) Satisfaction.

I am listening this morning to Jim Press, the President and Vice Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation. He is talking about its proposed merger with the Italian auto-giant FIAT. Based on his language I can only conclude that no matter what infusions of cash, no matter if the merger with FIAT takes, Chrysler as a corporation with fail.

Here's why.

Press talked repeatedly about customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is a term from 50 years ago and in today's world, it is no longer enough. The new "floor" in what you should deliver to your customers should be ebullience, excitement, energy. If your customers are merely satisfied, when it comes time to buy a new product, they will likely include others on their shopping list.

Ask someone how a date went, if they answer, "I was satisfied," chances are it was a pretty lame experience.

My point here is simple. Products and services today must do more than satisfy or they are merely utilities or commodities. The products (and the people) we love do more than satisfy, they turn us into exponents. We embrace them and start relationships with them. Not from companies that merely satisfy.

Is it just me?

Or does the title "Chief Growth Officer" sound like it has something to do with cysts and tumors?

A message to "designers."

When I write copy
and I put a line
in the copy,
that is how
you should break the line.

Don't change the meaning of what I write
or because you decide to

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tyranny of timesheets. Continued.

Over the last 48 hours I felt, as an ex-ecd of mine used to exclaim, "fucked with an iron rod."

I've had a single positioning line to write and no time to do it. So, for much of the last two days I've been turning this over in my head and coming up with nothing but blanks.


This morning walking early to the subway I finally had an idea. I ran through every permutation to kill it and couldn't, shared it with my colleague via IM at 8:30 and now we are moving ahead.

How do you put that on a fucking timesheet Mr. C fucking FO?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

As print media is dying.

It's hard to pick up a magazine or newspaper, or listen to the rare outlets of intelligence on television or radio, without hearing something about the death of traditional print media. We all know that statistics and, worse, the trends. Further, of late major newspapers in major cities have stopped their presses, with more to come.

Today, I logged onto, specifically
and saw something that should give print media, and me hope for the ongoing importance of, if not traditional print, then at least engaging discourse.

From April 7th to 17th, the Economist is having a live debate on whether or not the rich should pay more taxes than others. Here readers can respond, interact and listen to opposing opinions on the matter from experts from various think tanks and universities.

This seems a far cry from a print "viewing" experience. It is, rather, a "doing" experience.

Now, if you're so inclined, hop over to and see what may be the future of retail. Retail that gives you good stuff while allowing you to do good. In fact 25% of every sale on MacHeist goes to your choice of ten charities.

My macro point is simple. The old ways probably are dying. New ways, ways that engage readers and consumers are not.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My new favorite spot.

Somehow Honda in Europe by way of Wieden & Kennedy in Amsterdam produces great spots year after year after year.

This is their latest.

It was raining like the end of time as I sat in my office and thought of Hammett.

Click on this to make it legible. It's from Hammett's first novel, "The Red Harvest." It fits my mood and today's weather.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

An old-timer remembers.

With all the talk in the news about the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' new CitiField (where it costs an average family of four more than $400 to see a ballgame) I thought I'd zig while everyone else is zagging and take a walk uptown to the Polo Grounds to see the Giants play the Milwaukee Braves.

Of course I could take the IND C train up there, but it's the first nice day of Spring, a warm breeze and virtually cloudless skies, so I walked up through Harlem, across 125th Street East to West, then continued up Eighth Avenue to 155th Street. Man, oh Man, I loved seeing games up at the Polo Grounds, a real bandbox of a ballpark with short leftfield and rightfield fences, and Willie like a Zephyr covering the Elysian in center. Ah, a nice Rheingold and a bag of peanuts and a 25-cent ticket in those centerfield bleachers, just me and Willie out there in the sun.

A long walk to to Polo Grounds and when I got there, it was gone. A couple of kids I asked had never even heard of it and when I finally found an old-timer like myself, he said that the Giants had moved West at the end of the '57 season and they tore down the stadium after '64 for some public housing.

I walked slowly downtown. Sad it was all gone, but glad I had traveled uptown again.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Advertising Haiku, 2009.

Now that we're "right-sized"
Eliminated down-time,
Who do I talk to?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thinking of AIG's name change.

Here's a picture of my friend Sparky Feinstein.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Where's your level of ambition?

Years ago I was out of work and found myself trapped at an agency doing what I would consider picayune work. Work that simply won't move the brand or get noticed.

I remember once after a particularly good client meeting, an account person said to me, "You hit it out of the park." To which I replied, "Yes, but it was a very small park."

A short history of America.

By the brilliant R. Crumb.

In defense of cynicism.

Our world today seems to be one in which diversity is purportedly extolled but in reality avoided like a flock of mosquitoes in a nudist colony. While some work places might employ a range of skin colors, diversity of thought, approach, outlook is an ephemera. No, what is cherished now is a lock-step conformity, an obeisance to the party line and a pervading and soul-less docility.

There's an op-ed piece in The New York Times today called "Cynicism We Can Believe In." A thoughtful and well-tuned tribute to the importance of not going gently into that good night. If you can't find the time to read the whole megillah, at least read this, the concluding paragraph:

"Cynicism is basically a moral protest against hypocrisy and cant in politics and excess and thoughtless self-indulgence in the conduct of life. In a world like ours, which is slowly trying to rouse itself from the dogmatic slumbers of boundless self-interest, corruption, lazy cronyism and greed, it is Diogenes’ lamp that we need to light our path. Perhaps this recession will make cynics of us all."

I'll be working from home today.

I've been having some glandular issues lately. Didja ever have that? That annoying feeling where your endocrine gland just tingles, like pins and needles when your foot falls asleep. Speaking of sleep, last night I couldn't what with my damn endocrine gland tingling like a bell hung around the neck of an epileptic cow. Then when I got out of bed and looked in the mirror, I saw what happened. My whole endocrine system was out of whack. I was a full 7'2" tall and weighed northwards of 400 pounds.

Fortunately my endocrinologist was in early and I squeezed myself into a taxi to see him. Dr. Richard P. Cohen (not Richard R. Cohen, he's a podiatrist) has seen it all before. In a flash he gave me an endocrinological adjustment and I was down to my usual height and weight. Oddly enough however, Cohen had gone too far and by the time I stepped out of the cab at my apartment (still intending to make it into the office, mind you) I was 2'7" tall and weighed a scant 34 pounds.

That's no way for an ECD to show up at the office. What kind of authority would I have if I showed up pocket-sized? So, I'm going to take it slow today and try to sleep this anomaly off. I'll be online with limited access to email and you can reach me through Natasha, my able-bodied assistant (woo-hoo) or via cell.