Saturday, May 30, 2009

A sign in Chinatown.

Poetry exists in the world. You just need to be on the lookout for it.

I don't u.m.derstand.

One of the things I never have and never will understand is wearing clothing that displays type across your ass. Asses have their reasons for being but I don't think those reasons include being a surface for reading.

Today I went for a run in Central Park and I saw a woman with UMASS festooned across her not insignificant keister. The UM was across her left buttock. The ASS was across her right.

Um, ass.

Truth in ass-vertising, I guess.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Don't bother me, I'm branding.

These days, we hear the word "branding" as frequently as Adolph heard "Heil." "It needs more branding," we're told. "Dial up the branding." "Brand it." "Oh, you could put some branding on that hang tag."


Slathering a logo on a communication like a fat guy swabs mustard on a frankfurter isn't branding. It's slathering logos on things.

Brands are characters, beliefs, stories, truths.
And logos are logos.
Yes, they represent brands.
But in and of themselves--they are just logos.
They can evoke meaning but only if they're imbued with meaning in the first place.

Don't tell me to make something red, or make the logo bigger and tell me that those directives are about branding.

Those directives are about hacking.

Will bing be the thing?

Microsoft's bing--it's 879th Google-killer, is coming. Which, I suppose, is propitious because I have been thinking a lot about Microsoft lately and if, in a sense, Microsoft is the 21st-Century version of the American auto industry.

By that I mean, Microsoft is looking to extend their market dominance if not hegemony by throwing their weight around rather than by building a better, more innovative product.

bing is meant to be Microsoft's answer to something they call "search overload." Throughout their 2:46 video on they trumpet bing as not search, but decision. The hackneyed video ends with this line: "The world doesn’t need just another search engine, it needs a decision engine."

I dunno. This seems once again like Microsoft is proclaiming something like eminent domain over the world of search. I use Google probably two-dozen times a day. Google, as my 17-year-old pointed out, is a verb. It's that entwined in our daily habits. And it will take more than the "divine right of Microsoft" to get me to change my habits.

bing might very well be superior to Google. Just as American automakers are now saying things like "Buick scores higher than Toyota on Initial Quality Surveys." But, and here's my point, product superiority is not enough. Companies and consumers are in relationships--a relational continuum that stretches from outspoken disdain to fervent advocacy. My sense is Microsoft (like GM) is at the wrong end of that continuum. It will take more than a new and potentially better product to ameliorate the residue of bad feelings that Microsoft has fomented.

BTW, I found both the Bing Crosby photo above and the video of Bing singing a wonderful song from the 1942 movie "The Road to Morocco" on Google. It wasn't an issue for me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The joys of holding companies. Cont'd.

One of the pleasures of being at the top or near the top of the agency food chain is that you get to revel and otherwise cavort in administrative work. So my inbox gets filled with expense reports notifications.

This evening I received this one:

"The above expense report has an expense of $5.46 for toothpaste – our policy does not reimburse for personal toiletry items. Either I can reject this so you can remove OR I can remove when I process for payment. Please advise.

Accounts Payable Specialist"

It doesn't harpoon often, but I am speechless.


From a site called

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

GM does it again.

I just noticed a banner ad for GM's Buick, Pontiac and GMC divisions. The ad offers ("to qualified buyers") on ("most 2009...vehicles) 0% financing for 60 months. That's five years.

Now one of those GM divisions, Pontiac, is already being eliminated and GM itself is facing bankruptcy. In other words, GM is at a "green banana" crossroads. As in don't buy green bananas, you might now be around to see them ripen.

Seriously, taking a five year bet on a General Motors vehicle is like painting your house with water colors.

Sooner or later, it's going to rain.

Microsoft and General Motors.

I had a bit of an epiphany this morning, a moment of planner-like insight that rarely strikes anyone, much less planners.

Here's what happened. I have a regular Thursday psycho-therapy (two-word) appointment at 8AM. This week my Thursday appointment was moved to Wednesday. I duly noted that change on my Microsoft Office calendar and when I got the notification this morning that my appointment was looming I ignored it. Instead I blamed the early notification on some Microsoft gremlin. In short, MSFT software is so frequently buggy and incomprehensible that I assumed it was in error.

Here's my point: regardless of all the hundreds of millions of dollars Microsoft spends at JWT, Crispin of McCann trying to let people know that they're human and cool, everyday for the last fifteen years or so people have been daily reminded that instead of cool, Microsoft is buggy, broken and dumb.

It occurs to me that Microsoft's marketing approach is much like that of American car companies. Rather than saying at some point, "we fucked up building rattle-traps and lemons with obsolescence built in. We fucked up blaming everything on unions and healthcare costs. We fucked up maintaining a dealer network that if they're not downright dishonest, at the very least they don't treat consumers with respect." Instead the American automakers stayed a monolith. Hid behind a cloak of "Buy American-ism" and "what's good for GM is good for the country."

Updated to 2009, this is essentially Microsoft's posture as well. Rather than fixing its product, they issue patches (Detroit called those recalls) and try to put one over on consumers by saying they're shiny, new and cool (Detroit said longer, lower, wider.) Never was there any candor. An admission that when you get a "blue screen of death" it's not your fault.

Microsoft today seems as impervious as the auto industry seemed 50 years ago. Then Volkswagen entered the picture--the Apple of its day. Then the Japanese. Then the Koreans. All at once, no more American auto industry.

But don't worry about Microsoft.

JWT, Crispin and McCann say they're cool.


Many months ago I coined the word "asiten" which is one more than asinine.

This morning I clicked on a link from Fortune magazine and I got this message:

"Bad Gateway
The proxy server received an invalid response from an upstream server."

Couldn't someone just have written "this link is temporarily broken"?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There's a sucker born every $100 million.

Just an hour ago or so it was announced that an investment firm called Digital Sky Technologies has bought 1.96% of Facebook for $200 million, which puts the overall valuation of Facebook at $10 billion. $10 billion is still a lot of money, but it's 50% off Facebook's valuation from just two years ago when Microsoft bought a small slice for $240 million.

Here's what I don't get. Facebook making money. Yes, they have 200 million users. But so does Central Park. I've yet to see an ad, hear about a product or even have my curiosity piqued on Facebook.

What's more with the escalation of Facebook security breaches going around, I can't be the only one who's thinking the connections ain't worth the infections.

Finally, I guess there's a rule of thumb. Don't pay a lot of money for a company that has a lot of users who would likely drop the service if they were charged a fee.

I would not pay $10/month for Facebook or even $5. Would you?

Never the less, someone just paid about a buck a user.

Maybe they should call it Faceschnook.

Vita brevis, wise-asses longa.

Every Friday or Monday the "utilization police" check up on us in the office to compile a list of what each and creative is working on.

"What's on your plate?" they ask.

"Oatmeal," I reply, "and it's a bowl."

No wonder I am impelled to switch jobs every couple of years.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The office.

From The New Yorker.

How you know you're in Boston.

For the last couple of days I have been in Boston visiting my daughter. This morning I was out for a run and heard this.

Woman (to dog who was scampering all over a footbridge): Bonnie, focus.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Twittering in German.

Mark Twain once said, "Some German words are so long that they have a perspective." For whatever reason I was thinking about that and then I leapt to what it must be like to Twitter in German. Perhaps even sillier than Twittering in English.

Herewith are some German words I found.

Long German Words


(die, 41 letters) "regulation requiring a prescription for an anesthetic"

(der, 30 letters) This word may be short in comparison to those below, but it's a real word submitted by Robin in our Forum, taken from a letter he received. It means roughly "head district chimney sweep."


(die, 79 letters, 80 with new German spelling [one more 'f' in ...dampfschifffahrts...]) "association of subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services" (the name of a pre-war club in Vienna) - Not really useful, this word is more of a desperate attempt to lengthen the word below.


(der, 42 letters) "Danube steamship company captain"


(die, plur., 39 letters) "legal protection insurance companies"
According to Guinness, this was the longest German dictionary word in everyday usage, but the word below is a longer legitimate, official "longest word" — in semi-everyday usage.


(das, 63 letters) "beef labeling regulation & delegation of supervision law"
This was a 1999 German Word of the Year, and it also won a special award as the longest German word for that year. It refers to a "law for regulating the labeling of beef" - all in one word, which is why it is so long. German also likes abbreviations, and this word has one: ReÜAÜG.

Bringing home the Bacon.

Francis Bacon, that is.

Just cashed out some of my holding company stock and picked up this little beauty.

BTW, for whatever reason, this painting represents how most of us feel, I think,
as we enter what's supposed to be a three-day weekend.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Did it ever occur to you?

That people who say banalities like "thinking outside of the box" aren't?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is this phallic?

And if it is, why? And if it isn't, why is it so ugly?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Agency mantras.

Some years ago, I was the ECD of one of the world's larger interactive shops. A greviously serious place that believed in boring people into customer-hood. As an antidote to all that gravity, I proposed that we use the ever-so-common phrase "click to play" as our mantra.

Today running back to the office from an invidious mix, I saw the sign above. Those seem like words an agency could live by.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Do(n't) it yourself.

There's an article in today's New York Times about consumers in this economy looking to save money by doing it themselves.

The article is basically a litany of people who have ruined their bathrooms by installing their own toilet, or infecting their privates by waxing their own bikini, or coming out spotted by bleaching their own hair. That incident concluded this way: “We had to go in and do corrective color,” Ms. Brewer continued. “I charge by the hour, and I worked on her for four hours. So by the time it was over, she ended up spending close to $1,000 to have her hair corrected when it could have been $175.”

In every case the lesson is the same and is found in the article's title: "Even to Save Cash, Don’t Try This Stuff at Home."

I think about this because I've noticed more and more clients looking to do things themselves or more and more agencies doing the same. Clients choose to write copy. Or agencies volunteer to do things they used to hire, say, directors for.

Behaving in such a way may not cost money but it could cost success. Hiring the right people brings two things to a project, an outside perspective (an avoidance of group think) and professionalism. In the end those two things add value and are worth the money.

Customer control.

There's a terrific scene from a 1996 movie called "The Big Night," a movie that features, among others Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci. Here's the plot summary from IMDB:

"Primo and Secondo are two brothers who have emigrated from Italy to open an Italian restaurant in America. Primo is the irascible and gifted chef, brilliant in his culinary genius, but determined not to squander his talent on making the routine dishes that customers expect. Secondo is the smooth front-man, trying to keep the restaurant financially afloat..."

In my favorite scene from the movie, a customer orders spaghetti with a side order of risotto. Primo refuses to prepare the dish because it is simply wrong. You don't have spaghetti and risotto together. You just don't.

It's always seemed to me that this scene has a lot to teach us, especially in the internet era where "the customer is in control."

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, customer control kills businesses. There was a time when newspapers and network news were run under the aegis editorial control, ie. serious news and information was covered. Then came the pandering to the lowest common denominator and wars were forced off the front page for the likes of Miss California's breasts or Alex Rodriguez's needle-marked ass. Viewers got what they wanted, then later they found out that really wasn't any good and they turned off.

The same pattern has held in entire industries. Consumers demanded low prices from airlines. Airlines complied. Sacrificing everything that made travel bearable, service, reliability and, I believe, eventually speed and safety. Retailing has also followed suit. It is impossible to get service or find what you want in any number of big-box outlets. Eventually people will find other places to buy books, or electronics or pcs, like Amazon.

My point is quite simple. Yes, you have to listen to customers. But more important you have to have your own beliefs, standards and core values.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

As always.

Minute by minute, assignment by assignment, as communicators we must focus on getting through to people. There's no sense creating a piece of elegance and beauty if it is not noticed, if it is nothing more than wallpaper.

More often than not, breaking through, getting noticed, being intrusive involves being a pain in the ass. It's so much easier for clients, agencies et al to decide simply to blend in. No one is offended. I've heard it expressed this way--from an ex-client: "Fly low, fly slow and try not to crash."

I'm thinking about this this morning as I picked up my next book, Freeman Dyson's "The Scientist As Rebel." Early in Chapter 1, Dyson quotes a rebel who changed the world, Albert Einstein:

"When I was in the seventh grade...I was summoned by my home-room teacher who expressed the wish that I leave the school. To my remark that I had done nothing amiss, he replied only, "Your mere presence spoils the respect of the class for me."

I bring this up because often creatives and creativity "spoils the respect" of the best-practice-ites, of the incrementalists, of the status-quo-ers.

But it is our job. Not spoiling respect. But questioning, challenging and in the ungrammatical words of Apple and Chiat/Day do(ing)something different.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two years ago today.

Two years ago today my younger sister died in a motorcycle crash. Today I am dimming my lights, shutting off part of my brain and crying inside for the loss. I leave you today with this poem.

"Break, Break, Break"
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill:
But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

All the news that's fit to retch.

From The New York Times

May 12, 2009
Rotten Office Fridge Cleanup Sends 7 to Hospital

Filed at 8:14 p.m. ET

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- An office worker cleaning a fridge full of rotten food created a smell so noxious that it sent seven co-workers to the hospital and made many others ill. Firefighters had to evacuate the AT&T building in downtown San Jose on Tuesday, after the flagrant fumes prompted someone to call 911. A hazmat team was called in.

What they found was an unplugged refrigerator that had been crammed with moldy food.

Authorities said an enterprising office worker had decided to clean it out, placing the food in a conference room while using two cleaning chemicals to scrub down the mess. The mixture of old lunches and disinfectant caused 28 people to need treatment for vomiting and nausea.

Authorities said the worker who cleaned the fridge didn't need treatment -- she can't smell because of allergies.

Last night at the "Pointies."

Last night at the posh New York hotel the Walnut-Castoria, the PowerPoint industry honored its own--the best of breed powerpoint presentations.

Once again, for the third-year running, "Hot Pockets!" took home the Grand Pointy. A spokesperson for the Pointies said, "It doesn't matter that work is unpalatable, unbelievable and virtually unwatchable. It doesn't matter that work doesn't drive sales, change attitudes or motivate people to act. What matters is that the powerpoint presentation selling the work is brilliant. A melange of the insipid combined with a soupcon of incomprehensible."

Monday, May 11, 2009

What's wrong with America. Business. The military-industrial complex. And advertising.

I just read an item in Ad Age: "Campbell-Ewald Holds on to $146 Million Navy Account"/
Incumbent Wins Four-Way Review for Business That Began a Year Ago.

Consider these words: a "review...that began a year ago."

A year to choose an agency.


Mass media. But not TV.

The New York Times ran an article today about a 20-minute video that is getting more viewership than just about anything this side of The Star Trek movie. Here's what the Times had to say:

"So far, six million people have viewed the film at its site,, and millions more have seen it on YouTube. More than 7,000 schools, churches and others have ordered a DVD version, and hundreds of teachers have written Ms. Leonard to say they have assigned students to view it on the Web."

You can read the whole megilleh here.

I'm writing about this for two reasons.

1. It's important to see how we're ruining our world.
2. This is new mass media. Seen on our biggest network.
Not NBC, CBS, Fox or ABC.
The internet.

Happiness is a warm timesheet.

Checking my Facebook this morning I was struck by how many "friends" commented that they'd like nothing better than to rewind the world to Friday night. In other words, they are dreading work on Monday.

These pictures came to me this weekend in the form of a pdf'd "Employee Happiness Kit."

Perhaps the reason they call it a "depression" is that we are now all low-grade.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The kid doesn't stay in the picture.

A friend of mine was a leading creative director at an agency that was recently named, in their particular vertical, "Agency of the Year."

Shortly before they were named Agency of the Year, my friend was fired.

In the picture that accompanied the trade-magazine article on this agency,
she was re-touched out.

So much for "truth in advertising."
Which is way nicer than what I wanted to say.
Which is that this particular "Agency of the Year"
are a bunch of scheming mother fuckers.

Best practices.

David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times has an interesting article, "The Harlem Miracle," on Charter Schools today. And yes, it's prompted me to think about the advertising industry. You can read the whole megilleh here:

The miracle Brooks writes about is a charter school called The Promise Academy producing gains of 1.3 to 1.4 standard deviation. Quoting Brooks, "the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations."

Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist, had this to say about these results. "The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes.”

Now, the parallels to our industry. We accept, for example, an "open-rate" of .015% in direct mail. Getting that open-rate becomes the norm. We build "best practices" so that we achieve those results.

A .015% open-rate means fifteen people out of a thousand opened a piece of mail. That's a best-practice?

A lot of what we do in our industry is accepting mediocrity and formalizing mediocrity so that it is acceptable to accept it.

Our job is the opposite of that.
Our job is to be "no longer interested in marginal changes."
It's to find miracles.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A leitmotif is developing.

About innovation vs. Detroit-ism.

This is a looooooooong quotation from a 1916 novel called "Mr. Britling Sees it Through" by futurist (though we didn't use that term then) and novelist H.G. Wells.

It's about England in the early years of the 20th Century.

"Our manufacturing class was, of course, originally an insurgent had the craftsman's natural enterprise and radicalism. As soon it prospered and sent its boys to Oxford, it was lost. Our manufacturing class was assimilated in no time to the conservative classes, whose education has always has a mandarin quality...Machine haters. Science haters. Rule of thumbites to the bone...It isn't that we are simply backward in these things, we are antagonistic."

England 100 years ago. America today?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This morning I wrote about pragmatic absurdity.

And just a moment or two I ran across Allison Arieff's blog on The New York Times:

In it she talks about an urban planner/inventor/designer/thinker/absurdist called Steven M. Johnson. Arieff quotes Johnson and I think the quotation is germane. “America has been falling into a depression, a psychological depression, for many years. Yet this is a land of pioneer inventors. It annoys me that an untrained person like myself can think up products easily... and yet the nation seems to sit helplessly passive and wait to be saved somehow.”

Anyhoo, as Minnesotans like to say, take a gander at Johnson's work.
And think.
And laugh.
And do.

Salvador Dali's Mustache.

I was in The Strand bookstore (18 miles of books) over the weekend and found a tiny little book called "Salvador Dali's Mustache." As the title indicates, it's about 40 pictures of Dali's absurd mustache.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that we have all become too serious. As if no one wants to laugh any more because it doesn't fit in a .ppt.

I bought the book for my 17-year-old. Because she should grow up differently.

BTW, you can order this delightful little laughter on Amazon for $11. It might just brighten your day--not a bad result of an $11 expenditure.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

My Niece's 12th Birthday.

Alexa, my niece, is having her 12th birthday party at my apartment because we have a pool in our building. This morning, in the rain, I schlepped some balloons home to decorate the party room.

I thought about this scene from Carol Reed's "The Third Man," in which everybody is waiting for the mysterious Harry Lime (Orson Welles) to appear.

If you've ever seen anything better, let me know.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Oy vey ad of the century.

I just saw an ad on the on line New York Times for a local fast food chain called White Castle.

Frame 1 shows the BBQ Pulled Pork Slider. Frame 2 features a golden disco ball and 80s type that says, "Temptation Lies Between the Buns."

Fast-food and buggery. Have it your way, baby.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Movie of the week.

Aporkalypse Now.

Sad poetic line of the day.

Empty storefronts line the avenue like the missing teeth in a homeless man's grin.