Friday, July 31, 2009

Jean Renoir.

As I have noted previously in this Ad Aged, Jean Renoir probably has more "great" movies to his credit than nearly any other film maker ever. "Grand Illusion," "La Bête Humaine," "Rules of the Game." Today I watched "Boudu Saved from Drowning" which he filmed in 1932. If you have 85 minutes and a Netflix account, or a decent video store nearby, you really ought to see it. It will both hand you a laugh and make you think.

The clip I've pasted here is pretty good, not funny but wonderful. And remarkably "modern" considering it's pushing 80.

Having beers with the holding companies.

As a creative guy or more accurately a creative guy who is these days regarded as highly paid, I thought it made sense to get together over beers with the head of an advertising agency holding company and a senior account guy and figure out how to iron-out our difficulties.

I decided to have a Brooklyn Lager, partly an homage to a creative guy, Milton Glaser, who designed the logo, partly because it's a micro-brew without the pretense and partly because I happen to like it.

The account guy stammered for a minute, assured me that he'd charge it all on his card, and then looked around to see what beer others were ordering.

The holding company guy eschewed beer and ordered a $600 1996 Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac) and billed it to the agency.

I started the proceedings, once again, hoping to smooth our differences.

CREATIVE: I don't think you all give creative the respect it deserves.
ACCOUNT: Creative ideas can come from anywhere.
HOLDING CO: Is this billable?
CREATIVE: I've always felt that agencies make a product--that product is a creative idea that helps a client's business.
ACCOUNT: Well, the new model is a paradigm of convergence in the modalities of media shift to Twitter.
HOLDING CO: I couldn't agree more.
CREATIVE: It seems we have more people running around preparing decks for meetings than we have actually thinking of ideas for the client.
ACCOUNT: We have four FTEs in creative on our biggest account and once you've exceeded your hours we have to pull the plug.
HOLDING CO: Listen, I have a plane to catch.

With that the holding company guy and the account guy pushed back their chairs and left.

I was stuck with the check.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The 90-10 rule.

America, economists and financiers tell us, is in a post-industrial age. We are no longer the envy of the world because of factories like Willow Run and no longer can we out-produce the rest of the world combined. No, when we want a plastic tomato that walks or even a dreidel for Chanukah, we have to send to China to supply our wants.

Now, there are those that say we live in a service economy and the service factor of the products that are sold here are more important than ever. That is, if you buy a computer or an automobile, chances are your ability to get service for that product is a factor in your decision. So, if service is so important to our economy, why does it suck so bad.

Here's why, in a word, software. Or more accurately those managers who believe that software or science or technology can answer all our service needs. These are the people who create phone trees, mechanized voices and who construct service models that ask for your 16-digit account number 12 times in a single call. These are the cost-cutters who seem to assure the line at the counter is always eight deep and hell will freeze over before you can find knowledgeable help at a chain store.

I have a simple rule, I call it the 90-10 rule. 90% of all customer problems probably can be solved by software. 90% of the books you're looking for at Barnes & Nobel can probably be found via an in-store computer. But 10% of problems need a person's-involvement. A person to say "how can I help you?" A person who is empowered and not following a script that makes them essentially software-based protoplasm. A person who can say "thank you" with conviction.

My sense is that if a FedEx or a Home Despot or even a car company announced that they followed the 90-10 rule, customers would flock to them.

But I am crazy and no one listens to me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thinking about money.

Maybe it's endemic to my generation--a generation raised by parents of the Great Depression (the first one) but I spend a good amount of time thinking about money. There's nothing wrong with money--money isn't the root of all evil, the reckless pursuit of money is. Nevertheless, of late, maybe because the economy is so gloomy and my kids are so expensive I've been thinking about it a lot.

Just today I came upon this article from last Sunday's Wall Street Journal: "Cash-Strapped California's IOUs: Just the Latest Sub for Dollars" As neo-fascist as the Journal is, you have to give them credit--they can really write.

The article talks about substitutes for cash through the ages. Municipalities and businesses issuing IOUs on lumber, old tires and clam shells. But my favorite of all was from Minneapolis which gave out "sauerkraut notes" instead of cash.

I know the job market sucks right now and beggars can't be choosers but I draw the line at sauerkraut.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Only in America.

I will be the first to admit, I am educated, perhaps over-educated and more than a bit of a book snob. Nevertheless, I'll stop on occasion at the air-craft carrier-sized Barnes & Noble in my neighborhood. For one thing, it's the only place in the area that sells DVDs (and now the Criterion Collection is marked down 50%) and for another, they do have a lot of books and being around books is better than a poke in the eye regardless of how disorganized they are and how ill-informed their sales staff is.

However the sign that I just saw pushed me over the edge.
It read: "NEW HISTORY."

Science over creativity. Again.

In Sunday's New York Times there was a fairly large article called "Lab Watches Web Surfers to See Which Ads Work".
It's a story of a Disney-owned research center that tracks eye movement, uses heart-rate monitors, skin temperatures and, via probes attached to facial muscles, facial expressions. All of it is an attempt (once again) to sciencify how people respond to ads so networks or networks of networks, like Disney, can wrest more of the web's advertising dollars for their coffers. It is estimated by eMarketer that web advertising revenue will grow from $25 billion this year to $37 billion in 2013.

Oy vey iz mir, as my Puerto Rican friends like to say. This is yet another attempt to learn the rules that will causally lead to marketing or programming success. No such rules exist, they never have and they never will. My belief is that research such as this is a lot like bug spray or a flu shot. It will work for a while and under certain conditions, but eventually adjustments are made that render the formula ineffective. That's just life, ok?

Since Gilgamesh which was written around 4,200 years ago, or the Iliad which was written about 2,800 years ago, the central precepts of communication have not changed. They won't change any time soon.

So wire us up. Watch us watching things. And draw your expensive conclusions. It's as easy to ignore science as it is to ignore a boring ad.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Yesterday my wife went to a discount store downtown and bought herself a collection of outfits the likes of which Zsa Zsa Gabor would envy. While she was there, she also bought me a pair of boxer shorts.

Of course like nearly everything you buy these days, these shorts have a label on the outside--I suppose for your reading pleasure. That label reads in all caps "CLASSIC UNDERWEAR."

Now, I'll admit, the shorts are darn nice, roomy in the "seat" and large enough upfront for my not inconsiderable manhood. But CLASSIC is a term I've always reserved for Shakespeare, or the Parthenon, or Michelangelo, or even, the Honeymooners.

I understand that underwear advertising probably necessitates a bit of hype, but I prefer my underwear understated.

Dumb ad (strategy) of the day.

Now that The Tour de France is over, it's time for some news about The Tour de France. It seems that Lance Armstrong has signed with a new team for next year's race--Team Radio Shack. A full-page ad in The New York Times heralds this occasion.

I'll be the first to admit there's a lot about the world I don't understand. String Theory. Things being too big to fail (I'm 6'2" and 200 lbs. and I've never had a problem failing.) And sports sponsorship.

What will Radio Shack gain from giving a couple million simoleons to Armstrong? Here's a chain named after a nearly obsolete technology and a sort of rickety, sub-standard structure. Will Armstrong's glow change my perception of the store? Will I be any more inclined to buy small robotic bugs for $9.95? Likewise, do I feel any better about the rapacious robbers at Citibank because their logo and name is emblazoned on a ball-park built by tax-payer dollars? Did I believe for a second that Tiger Woods drove a Buick except for the Buick-inspired mammon he received?

No, I don't think so. Sports sponsorship is yet another brain-child of some MBA as a way of reaching people through their "affinities." I suppose it's way more effective than actually providing value.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It was hot today in New York.

It was so hot today in New York, my cab driver was steaming vegetables in his turban and I was sweating like a Priest at a Little League game. As a consequence I got a hankering for some soft-serve ice cream. I noticed a brand called "Frogurt" and the slogan "the first name in frozen yogurt." It just made me wonder what frozen yogurt's last name is.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Late breaking hotdog news and a metaphor.

I just came across this in The New York Times. It seems that the Oscar Meyer Weiner mobile has crashed into a house in Racine, Wisconsin. I suppose if you have the appetite for it, you can read the whole thing here:

Now I've always been a Hebrew National man myself. However, I won't bring religion into it. It does seem to be an apt metaphor for brands that work hard to create an image and then do something ruinous to that image. Like crash into your house.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Some thoughts about marketing channels.

There's a lot in the press of late about Depression 2.0 perhaps coming to an end and the impact such an end will have on the advertising industry. Many have written about a rebound of television advertising, or a shift to online media, or the continued surge in mobile advertising and social networks.

Amid all this blather, marketers and their agencies are ignoring perhaps the most important marketing channel of all: Customer Service. That is, how does a brand work when you are actually interacting with them.

Now, according to most TV spots, there's always a blonde--a pretty one at that--on the other end of the phone. Never someone from the sub-continent who couldn't pronounce 'Tannenbaum' if you tutored him for a month. Big box retailers always have some helpful fellow in a blue vest who can help you rewire your whole home in 20 minutes or less, without blowing a literal or figurative fuse. Car dealers are always helpful, never hard-sell shysters. And there's always someone perky behind the counter to accurately ring up your charges and speed you on your way.

Unfortunately in real life, brands don't work the way their commercials say they do. So when you do interact with a brand not only are you disappointed by the service they provide, you also feel lied to.

My two cents say this: if you want to fix your brand, don't just try to create a better TV commercial--that's not enough. Try to create a better brand.

I have a little time right now.

So I've taking a few hours to scan in some of my political cartoons. Here is one I titled "Our Leader."

Dumb ad of the day.

Marketers spend fortunes on brand campaigns, on TV spots and print ads and then, often, hire different agencies and have different "campaign management" when they do in-store posters. I don't know why this is, but it is. I suppose they think that communications at point-of-purchase are less important somehow and, therefore, should cost less. As counter-intuitive as that seems, I'll let that sit there without further comment and gallop on ahead to the aforementioned "dumb ad of the day."

I was walking down Lex in the 80s and saw a poster in the window of an HR Block Tax Center. The headline on the poster was:

No, no, no.

There are about three dozen people in this country who get to pay taxes their way, and they all have incomes in the billions. For the rest of us there's no "your way" option. Nope. You pay the government's way. Period.

This line is typical of the bombast, cliche and stupidity endemic in most advertising and, I'm afraid, in-store advertising often leads the way.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Death by software.

When I worked on technology accounts caged within the four walls of giant agency conglomerates, I realized you could divide the world neatly in two: those who believe software can solve all our problems and those who believe that software can be helpful, vital even, but is a tool like any other and needs human intervention to make it work.

The software-ites believed you could do things like "optimize personnel utilization" via software. That software could lead your agency to greater profitability while eliminating downtime. Further software was somehow more efficient--smarter--than walking down the hall and asking someone what they're doing.

I love technology, but I was never a software-ite. We are not sufficiently advanced as a species so as to make common sense and a human touch obsolete. When software works, as it does when you have a problem with your Kindle, or when you order and track something on Amazon, it is a magical thing.

Of course, there's an advertising lesson here as well. SEO and SEM are important. I suppose best-practices have their place, too. But absolutes (except for this one) whether they're found in software, interpersonal relationships or advertising, make no sense. There are no "if-then" propositions in life, no real causality in marketing. If it were "software-able" no companies would fail and we would not be experiencing the present global economic meltdown.

I come upon this morning's philippic naturally. The NY Times reported this morning that a Johns Hopkins sophomore recently noticed a $23,148,855,308,184,500 charge on her Visa bill along with a $20 "Negative Balance Fee" from Wachovia. (See photo above.)

The sophomore's dad got the charge cleared after "waiting on hold for half an hour." And Visa finally conceded that there had been a "temporary programming error" during a systems upgrade.

My two cents say that without common sense software is not much better than deodorant. After all, it stops working when things get really hot.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yet another reminder.

I just ran across a slide show retrospective on Nicholas Ray at

I don't know why, maybe because I love Robert Ryan and always liked Ida Lupino, but this still hit me right between my Paul-Newman-like blue eyes. It feels like a combination of Ansel Adams, Edward Hopper, Alfred Hitchcock with a soupcon of John Huston thrown in. In short, very tough to beat.

Today, of course, you have film majors who have never seen "Citizen Kane." You have art directors who disparage Helmut Krone because he is old. You have copywriters who haven't read every DDB VW ad and everything McCabe ever wrote. These are the people who strut around agencies pontificating while producing mindless sensational crap. Maybe that's good enough for today's world.

It's not good enough for mine.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

There's something happening here.

It is from this week's New Yorker.

Or as Arthur Miller wrote in Death of a Salesman: "You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away; a man is not a piece of fruit."

Monday, July 20, 2009

A frightening view.

I am reading right now Pulitzer Prize-winner's Chris Hedges' new book "Empire of Illusion--The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle."

Hedges is not what you would call an optimist. His book--a polemic, really, rails against the excess of vapidity in America, our failure to consider truth, our embrace of celebrity and fantasy and our abandonment of critical thinking.

I think about this as people describe tattoos as "body art." Or talk about hip-hop or sneaker-culture. Please.

Here's what has to say about the book on their site. (It's not yet released in the US.)

"Pulitzer prize–winner Chris Hedges charts the dramatic and disturbing rise of a post-literate society that craves fantasy, ecstasy and illusion.

"Chris Hedges argues that we now live in two societies: One, the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world, that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other, a growing majority, is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. In this “other society,” serious film and theatre, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins."

There's not much I can add to the above. All I can say is I picked up the book yesterday at 1 and will likely finish it today by 10PM. I encourage you to find time to read it and find someone receptive to pass it along to. And pray.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Somehow they did it.

Oy, or something. On Monday we climbed inside the Pyramid of Cheops, and clowning around, I hopped into the empty granite sarcophagus in the tomb room. Since then I have been afflicted with a fairly assertive stomach flu. So, that shit about the Mummy's Curse, all true.

In any event, today we ventured forth, me more than a little wobbly and visited the Acropolis.

I have never in my life seen anything more amazing. And that includes this year's Titanium winners at Cannes.

Of course, the Parthenon itself is the crown jewel, sitting atop the Acropolis. It's huge, 228' x 101.4', so in other words about the same proportions of something shot in "CinemaScope," which is 2.37 to 1. It's said that the architects, like architects of bridges today, had to take into consideration the curvature of the Earth. Also, to make the Parthenon "perfect" to the eye, they bowed slightly inward the steps and varied the distances between columns.

They were able to build the Parthenon in just nine years. And all this was done 2500 years ago.

It takes us a year to build an ad campaign.
We don't take into consideration the curvature of the Earth.
Our proportions aren't perfect.
And our work won't last 2.5 years, much less 2,500.

This is proof of something.
But I'm not sure what.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My new Egyptian friend.

As regular readers of Ad Aged know, I am in Egypt right now. Tonight I met a man, an old man, named Ahmed.

Ahmed was once one of Egypt's greatest bakers--specializing in pita bread. He learned the craft from his father, watching his father bake from the time he was just three years old. He apprenticed to his father at the age of nine, and rolled his first solo pita when he was just 12. In time and after millions of pitas, Ahmed became the most famous pita baker in Cairo, and then, in all of Egypt. For 40 years he wore the crown as Egypt's finest.

But in his old age, Ahmed's pita, while still great, slowly began to deteriorate in quality. Perhaps some memory loss or a loss of strength in his hands that inhibited his ability to shape the dough. Ahmed's bread declined even further as the years went by. Finally, his pita was deemed inedible. His pita-baking license was revoked.

And that, my friends, is what you call 'the pita principle.'

Six years ago tomorrow.

On Bastille Day, 2003, I had one of the high points of both my career and my life. As a creative director on IBM at Ogilvy, I was invited to a creative conference at David Ogilvy's Chateau in Touffou, France.

It was Bastille Day, we had flown all night, then taken a train past Poitiers, then a taxi to the Chateau. The Chateau--parts of which dated to the 12th Century was guarded by a dry moat. There was a path across the moat and on either side of the entrance to the chateau there was a granite lion. A chain stretched from one lion to the other, blocking the cab. I jumped out to remove the chain, got up too quickly and had a tete-a-tete with one of the lions, smashing my forehead and nose. The lion was unharmed.

I was quickly rushed inside the Chateau where Mrs. Ogilvy (Herta) had me rest with my head on a pillow on her lap as she applied an ice pack to my wounds. Together we watched Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France.

Short of pouring molten lead on revolting peasants, I can't think of a better way to have spent Bastille Day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Something there is

I am in Egypt now, in Giza, a part of "Greater Cairo" and just across the Nile from Cairo proper. Driving out of the city to see the Pyramids I am struck that there are fences and walls everywhere. Everything is walled, for protection, or privacy, privilege, habit or property.

It made me think, this morning, of Robert Frost's "Mending Wall."

Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Frost writes about Nature hating walls, toppling them. And certainly, and you see it in Egypt, history has many walls built and many walls destroyed.

Agencies build walls too.
Between departments, between disciplines, between media, between people.
Agencies, most social organizations, most races, most nations, most people like walls.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I was born in Babylonia, Moved to Arizona.

I'm in the Middle East now. A land of Sheiks and souks and mystery and intrigue. Where a girl costs less than a cigarette, and a boy costs less than a girl. I'm here in search of the bird, that's right, the black bird. Kemidov had it last in Istanbul, but he bungled things and the Fat Man absconded with it. Then, of course, the Paloma caught fire, the fools, the bloody fools. And now we are here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The teachings of St. Peter.

Forty years ago, Canadian psychologist Laurence Peter (shown above) promulgated The Peter Principle. In a nutshell his maxim was this: Organizations will promote competent people to their level of maximum incompetence. In other words, if you're good at juggling, you'll get promoted to fire-eating, something you may have no aptitude for.

Well now some researchers at the University of Catania in Italy have gone Peter one better. They suggest you can promote people randomly and it will neither improve or worsen the organization's level of competence.

Read the whole thing here:

More on Microsoft , GM and Mandalas.

With the news that Google is soon to offer an operating system (OS) my earlier posts comparing Microsoft and General Motors seem increasingly more relevant. Back in 2001, months before the world changed, my mentor, Steve Hayden presented something he called "Hayden's Mandala," a "model to describe all human and organizational behavior."

Here it is in a nutshell.

1. It starts with fear. "I'll always be stuck in a sucky job. Or "I'm afraid our company will never be famous."
2. That leads to people inspired to come up with a concept and that "leads to intelligence."
3. Next comes "intelligent fear." The anxiety that "someone else could squash me like a tortilla, or someone else has already done that." So you come up with a better idea, you do better work.
4. Then comes arrogance. When you're not squashed you get the feeling "We’re smarter than they are, they’re dumb, they’re old, they’re slow, and we know what we’re doing."
5. Things are going right now. You're winning marketshare. You are at your height. That's "intelligent arrogance."
6. The counter-balance to that is...stupidity. For GM, it was Oh, Japanese cars will never have more than 10% marketshare. For Microsoft, it's been we're a monopoly--why listen to customers.
7. Then things fall apart. As they always do when you act stupidly.

This is the way the world works. The way agencies go. The way, too often relationships go.

I can't guarantee Google's new OS will clean MSFT's clock. But my guess is that Microsoft will follow a GM-like course. They'll lose 1.5 points of marketshare every year for 30 years.

Ah, ever the optimist.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gustav Mahler, Advertising and Ambition.

Whenever things don't go my way, or get upsetting I find that a dose of Gustave Mahler helps settle me. His music is more uproarious than life, more filled with tumult and stress and strain.

It's his 8th Symphony I've been thinking about. He orchestrated it for more than 1,000 musicians and singers when it debuted over 90 years ago. In a letter to his wife after completing the symphony he said,“it is all an allegory to convey something that, no matter what form it is given, can never be adequately expressed.”

That's pretty heady stuff.

When Stravinsky was asked his views he is said to have replied “was so much machinery really needed just to prove that two and two equals four?”

Music critic James C. Taylor had this to say about that: "My sense is that Mahler needed so much machinery because he in fact was trying to blow apart such logic. With his two very unequal, unwieldy movements, and with texts in two different languages, he seemed to be saying that two plus five equals something much greater than eight. With so much on stage, the excitement of this symphony is that each performance is so unpredictable, even explosive. The fact that it doesn't add up may be the point."

Like I said, I find consolation, inspiration and ambition from Mahler. We can use more Mahler in advertising. Or at least more Mahler-ites.

PS. The bust here is of Mahler and by Rodin.

This concludes the cultural enrichment portion of your day. We now return you to Michael Jackson and the deification of pederasty.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wisdom from Langston Hughes.

Since I was about 15, I've been a fan of Langston Hughes. His "Simple" stories and his poetry. "Theme For English B" had a huge influence on me, as did a lesser known poem called "Impasse."

Right now, I am thinking of a poem called "Motto."

I play it cool
And dig all jive.
That’s the reason
I stay alive.

My motto,
As I live and learn,
Dig And Be Dug
In Return.

Denters and smoke-jumpers.

Adam Morgan in his book "The Pirate Inside," talks a lot about how most organizations need 'denters.' That is people who collide with and therefore upset the dominant complacency of a company and by so doing try to effect change.

I have been, I guess I am by nature, a denter. I hate status quos and always think things can be better. I take denting seriously.

For a while companies welcome denters--because denters do the dirty work for the organization. But, again according to Morgan, denters need help. They need 'smoke-jumpers.' That is a fire-fighter who rescues the denter or gets them out of trouble when things get too hot.

I've been a denter at a lot of different agencies now.
I have yet to meet a smoke-jumper.

No wonder I'm out of work.

Monday, July 6, 2009

(Almost) everything old is new again.

This morning I heard a report on BBC World View that a 1600-year-old version of the Old Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, has been digitized and placed online by the British Library.

For all the gee-whiz flash and flashy horseshit of the web, there's a simple message here. If your content is good, you don't need a helluva lot of glitz to present it. There was nothing really wrong with the UI of a book. It's worked for a few thousand years and may last for at least a couple dozen more.

The link above downloads an app from Microsoft, so it takes a few seconds. Give it the time it needs. You'll find it's worth it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Last night's fireworks.

Our TV set is on the fritz, so rather than watching the fireworks last night we listened on the radio.

"There's a trail of yellow heading up into the sky. It descends into a parabola and now it's exploding into a cascade of yellow, green and red. Oh! Here's another one. Up up up, exploding into a blossom--a crysthanamum-like explosion. Look, there's another one."

That's fireworks on radio.

My point is simple. Different mediums have different strengths. If you, or your agency, can't use them all--if you're locked into one way, you'll produce crap. Like fireworks on the radio.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A metaphor.

I am associated with a weird de facto society of incredibly learned New York psychiatrists, most of whom I support financially. They are really the cream of NY's intellectual crop and I am kind of like their mascot or maybe, if I want to flatter myself, their muse.

Responding to some undisclosed stimulus, one of these doctors said to me recently, "remember what happened to Vienna when the Nazis expelled the Jews. It went from the leading city in the world in art, music, medicine and psychiatry to a small European backwater of faded glory."

Some agencies, if I may be so ego-centric, expel creative minds because those minds are out-of-step with their surroundings.

That's all I'm going to say right now.


Here is a short list of some leading Jews who were forced out of Vienna by the rise of Nazism:

Physicians: Julius Tandler, Emil Zuckerkandl, Ernst Fuchs, Josef Breuer, Carl Sternberg, Julius Schnitzler, Ludwig W. von Mauthner, Ernst Löwenstein, Robert Bárány, Otto Loewi, David Gruby, Josef Halbans, Adam Politzer, Viktor E. Frankl and Leopold Freund are but a few of the names that made a mark in the realm of science - Bárány (1914) and Loewi (1936) were both awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine.

Of course, there was also Sigmund Freud, his pupil Alfred Adler and Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy.

In Law, Hans Kelsen wrote the Austrian constitution.

In science, there was Siegfried Marcus (whom some say invented the automobile), the physicists Lise Meitner, Wolfgang Pauli (Nobel Prize 1945) and Felix Ehrenhaft, the biochemist Max F. Perutz (Nobel Prize 1962), the botanist Julius von Wiesner, the chemist Otto von Fürth and the astronomer Samuel Oppenheim as well as Fritz Feigl, Leo Grünhut and Edmund von Lippmann.

In music there was Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg, Egon Wellesz, Erich Korngold and Alexander Zemlinsky, Oscar Straus, Emmerich Kalmán, Leo Fall and Edmund Eysler.

In Literature: Arthur Schnitzler, Hermann Bahr, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Beer-Hofmann, Peter Altenberg, Karl Kraus, Jakob Wassermann, Alfred Polgar, Franz Werfel, Stefan Zweig, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Torberg, Hans Weigel, Elias Canetti, Hugo Bettauer, Fritz Hochwälder, Josef Roth, Felix Salten, Hilde Spiel, Jura Soyfer and Vicki Baum.

In Philosophy: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Popper, Martin Buber and Josef Popper-Linkeus.

And in Film: Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and Otto Preminger.

A bit on the Jackson family.

I never worked with Michael Jackson and never really cared about him or his music. But his death brought to mind an experience I did have with one of Michael's sisters.

Here's the scene. It's about 15 years ago and I am attending High Holy-Days services at a Jewish temple on East 52nd Street in Manhattan. The place is stuffed to the gills with people atoning or praying to their God. It's about as a devout scene as you can imagine in the era where most adore money and possessions more than their souls.

All at once, the entire congregation reacts almost as one like fish in a school to some late arrivals to the service. An older Jewish man walks in, shortish and schlumpy. He is following by a tall, busty black woman teetering unsteadily on too-high heels. At once a whisper runs through the temple. "It's La Toya Jackson."

That's right.

I observed Rosh ha Shanah with the King of Pop's sister.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The year 1,000,000.

As far as evolution goes, man has gone through a lot of changes over the last thousand millennia or so. Our arms have gotten shorter, our brains (for the most part) larger. Our jaws less prognathous and so on. These are adaptations our species has made so as to adjust the modern world.

I suppose in the year 1,000,000 humans will bear some resemblance to humans of today as we bear some resemblance to neanderthals. Maybe somewhere anatomists, paleontologists, geneticists and biologists have worked out a CAD/CAM model of what our descendants will look like.

I have no training, aptitude or proclivity for any of the sciences listed above. But if advertising agencies and holding companies were to rule the future, I have a prediction.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Some early unemployment observations.

I have been heartened by the out-pouring of good wishes I have received from my friends, both real and digital. Thank you.

I just realized something.
When you're in advertising and unemployed, people pray for each other.
When you're in advertising and employed, people prey on each other.

Somehow this seems appropriate for today.

What we are and have been living through is a workplace revolution. I say this having just finished a book called "Fordlandia," which is the epic tale of Ford's attempt to create a rubber plantation roughly the size of Connecticut in the wilds of Brazil's Amazon. For all his anti-unionism, for all his vile anti-semitism, Ford paid workers $5/day when everyone else was paying less than half that. His thinking was that he was creating a mass product, he needed to create mass consumers.

Today's world works differently, antipodially. We squeeze all costs out of our production chain. Trying to build color tvs or banner ads at the least possible cost. Naturally, along with that it is necessary to look for lower-wage workers. So what we are seeing in the world is a destruction of the buying class--people who can afford to buy those cheap TVs we make.

This is happening around the world, in our industry and most others.

I found this cartoon this morning emblazoned on a coffee mug we bought some years ago. It seems appropriate. We all have to work really hard--harder than ever to escape the crowds. What we need to escape we probably already inherently have. Finally, once we flap hard enough, if we don't find a better place, at least we have the tools to look.

Come flap with me. The view is nice up here.