Monday, August 31, 2009

Not getting it.

I won't say outright that I don't understand sports sponsorship. I suppose in some instances there are links between products and the sport that make sense. So slathering your company's name all over a stadium has some efficacy. Budweiser and baseball makes sense for me. I suppose Canon cameras and the Yankees add up. But Citibank and the Mets? Naw, that I can't fathom. I'm not thinking about my checking account while I'm at the ball park. And I can't for the life of me imagine saying, "I think I'll put $25K in such-and-such a bank because they sponsor a Venezuelan shortstop who can go to his left."

I just went onto the United States Tennis Association's website, I'm not sure why and listened in to about 30 seconds of US Open Tennis radio. The first commercial I heard was for Citizen's watches: "the official timekeeper of the US Open."

Now I know I'm stupid.

I always thought that one of the joys of tennis is that's it's played without a clock. In tennis (Am I getting this right?) you win when you score a requisite number of points. Time has nothing to do with it, ergo, why an official timekeeper?

Tennis having an official timekeeper is like football having an official tablecloth.

More racism from major advertisers.

My post from last Friday was about a Microsoft banner ad which was revised for Polish media in which a black man was removed and an imbecilic white model was stripped in. Just now I saw something that topped that blight--or, rather, bottomed it, in my digital issue of The New Yorker magazine.

I'm talking about an ad for international coverage from Verizon. The headline, such as it is, reads "Coverage in Mexico. And more than 220 other countries." Of course the awful test guy is featured, but in the background there are scores of Mexicans. And did you know that Mexicans aren't like you and me? Nope. According to this Verizon swill, representative Mexicans all play in Mariachi bands. Yep, there they are, dressed like the wait-staff in a third-rate resort in Playa del Cockroach. Wearing sombreros, and little monkey jackets, holding or playing instruments with the women furling their long, colorful skirts like flags. This is some cartoon characterization of Mexico. At least the Frito Bandito and Speedy Gonzales were meant to be funny. This, I presume, is meant to represent Mexico.

When Verizon runs ads overseas about service in the US, how do they depict us? Are there Hasidic Jews selling diamonds, gun-toting high school kids, watermelon eating black people playing basketball. Are there overweight, pants-suit wearing Bible thumpers and abortion-doctor-killing religious zealots? Are there defense contractors with their sleeves rolled-up, up to their elbows in innocent blood. Radical right wing haters spewing lies?

Verizon's advertising is always offensive because it is demeaning and stupid. This ad is worse than usual. It's demeaning, stupid and racist.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A new ism.

Over at AdScam ( George Parker has a post about a Microsoft banner ad being racist. Apparently in the Polish version of the ad a black man was exed out and a white man was photoshopped in .

Looking at these photographs I don't see a case of racism, I see a case of Grin-ism.
The client-enforced, HR-enforced, prozac-enhanced requirement that everyone in every ad is happy. Unless of course they're a heroin-addicted model.

No one in the world looks like those grinning fuck faces in the ads above. Forcing those sorts into ads is blatant grin-ism.

A bit more on ambition.

Last week it was announced that 38 years after the murderous slaughter of dozens of Viet Namese in the small village of My Lai, former Lt. William Calley expressed contrition for what he did.

Reading a NY Times editorial on this I was reminded of something a mother of one of the soldiers said to Seymour Hersh, the reporter who broke the story: “I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer.”

My point about ambition in my last two posts or so isn't that we shouldn't be ambitious, it's that much like our military-industrial-educational-entertainment system turned good boys into killers, the holding-company and client technocracy seem to be turning good creatives into functionaries and rationalizers.

Good ideas, if they emerge at all from agencies and clients today, are a distillate that have somehow survived thousands of pages of powerpoint, hundreds of mindless meetings, the magnified inspection of cost consultants, dozens of hours of consumer research and of course petty office politics, back-biting and GND (generalized nastiness disorder.) There was a PBS special about sharks on the other evening, and the sonorous announcer told of one sort of shark that can sense a single drop of blood amid 25 million drops of water. Sometimes it seems that clients can hone in on a single drop of creativity amid 25 million pixels. (An ex boss of mine once referred to a certain set of clients as "wit-seeking missiles.")

My point about ambition isn't that individuals, agencies or holding companies lack it. My point is that a system has emerged that seems to enforce mediocrity, like our reign in Viet Nam seem to induce horror. It's kind of like working at the Sheboygan County Fair for a summer, surrounded by bratwurst, beer and fried corn dogs while trying to lose weight. Your intentions may be noble, your will power may be stoic, but the odds are daunting. The question for agencies and holding companies is how to create a system that battles the system.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A bit of a retraction.

Earlier today I wrote about how holding companies and marketing departments have destroyed ambition. Actually, they've created its opposite. Antibition. But that's not totally true.

Cabbing home tonight I realized holding companies are extremely ambitious. In the way that banks are. If banks have a branch every eleven blocks, their ambition is to have a branch every nine blocks, then every six blocks. Their ultimate ambition of course is to have all the money in the world, to have a harem of Heidi Klum look-alikes, to live inside a dormant volcano and rule the world while never getting old.

I suppose the same can be said for advertising holding companies. They won't be happy until they own everything. Until they can control those "assets" who leave the building every day and can exercise influence over media channels so that every square inch of every bit of matter on the planet is given over to the buying and selling of crap. "This State of the Union Address is brought to you by beechwood-aged Budweiser with the cool, crisp taste that takes the edge off a failing economic system."

Ya, things are bad alright.

But let me switch gears for a second. Preston Sturges, one of America's greatest movie makers (I've written a few posts on him if you'd like to learn more) had a keen insight into the struggles of ordinary men and women who yearn to be great, who yearn to make a difference. If you can find his 1940 movie "Christmas in July," you'll see what I mean.

I thought about a passage from that flick tonight. In the scene Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell) is a young clerk who enters slogan contests in an effort to get ahead. Daydreaming about winning led him to add up some numbers incorrectly and he is being upbraided by his boss, E.L. Waterbury (Harry Hayden.)

Here's the bit:

Jimmy MacDonald:
Well I... I guess it's the contest, Mr. Waterbury - the Maxford House contest. I had no idea it was hurting my work.
Mr. E.L. Waterbury: How much is the prize?
Jimmy MacDonald: The *first* prize is $25,000.
Mr. E.L. Waterbury: Unnh
[smiles ironically]
Mr. E.L. Waterbury: I used to think about $25,000 too, and what I'd do with it. That I'd be a failure, if I didn't get a hold of it. And then one day I realized that I was *never* gonna have $25,000, Mr. MacDonald.
Mr. E.L. Waterbury: And then another day... uhh... a little bit later - *considerably* later - I realized something else - something I'm imparting to you now, Mr. MacDonald. I'm not a failure. I'm a success. You see, ambition is all right if it works. But no system could be right where only half of 1% were successes and all the rest were failures - that wouldn't be right. I'm not a failure. I'm a success. And so are you, if you earn your own living and pay your bills and look the world in the eye. I hope you win your $25,000, Mr. MacDonald. But if you shouldn't happen to, don't worry about it. Now get the heck back to your desk and try to improve your arithmetic.

I think my point here is pretty simple. Life and the business kind of sucks. Or, maybe, it sucks a whole helluva lot. But stick to your guns, do the best you can do under the circumstances, keep trying, keep pushing. In crappy times that's ambition. It may not be what you want, but it beats the alternative.

PS. Included here is a five minute clip from "Christmas in July." Not the one I quoted above, but good nonetheless.

Being cursed.

An older friend and I were having a conversation. This friend, who at one time in his life had often succumbed to a well-turned ankle, was telling me that he was settled now, no longer susceptible to the allure of flesh. His exact words to me were, "The trumpets of lust have quieted."

I am reading now a book by the late, great David Halberstam that he wrote about JFK's administration and the hubris that nearly destroyed the US by embroiling us in Viet Nam. It's called "The Best and the Brightest" and one of the many Plutarchian portraits in the book is of Averell Harriman. An aide of Harriman's was once asked "What makes Averell different from other men?" The aide responded "Well, he's the only ambitious seventy-seven-year-old I've ever met."

It occurs to me that perhaps the worse curse you may visit upon someone is "may you remain ambitious." There's no room for ambition in advertising today. Against the machine-like hegemony of massive holding companies and massive client "marketing" structures.

I suppose straying afield from advertising into America itself, the dreams of upward mobility, of health, hearth and happiness seem further removed than ever. After all, as Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman pointed out in an op-ed in last Sunday's Times, "To be sure, the wealthy benefited enormously [from "Reaganomics]: the real incomes of the top .01 percent of Americans rose sevenfold between 1980 and 2007. But the real income of the median family rose only 22 percent, less than a third its growth over the previous 27 years." In other words your potential for economic advancement is roughly 1/35th as great as the already mega-wealthy.

Which is why ambition today consists of attempting to win at the lottery, play in the NBA, win America's Next Top Model or some such or American Idol. Ambition for teens consists of SAT coaching and taking up the oboe so they can get into a elite university and settle into lifestyles less accomplished than their parents'. Ambition in advertising consists of doing fake ads, 32 second spots for Scrabble or pro-bono ads that never run, so you can get a better job yet still be rendered superfluous at 50.

Ambition is futile against such odds and leaves me coining this slogan:

"Give up and live."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The first and last Ad Aged circumcision tagline contest.

I've written a couple of posts of late about circumcision. Each of those posts have generated a fair bit of conversation. So I thought I'd keep that conversation going by starting a circumcision tagline contest.

There are no rules.

You can be for or against circumcision. Or both.
You can enter as often as you like.
I am entering too.
I am the judge.

Here are my entries to date:

Circumcise. Circumwise.

It's your schlong, keep it long.

This might get a bit woolly.

I see the world, at times, in a Manichean manner. That is, there are forces of evil and good and they are in a constant struggle for the soul of mankind and the fate of humanity. Well, maybe I'm not that absolute, but you get the idea.

In the past, I've always believed that you could divide agencies, clients and even people into two categories. There are the "Yes, we cans" and there are the "No, we can'ts." You don't have to be at an agency long to determine which attitude impels your agency.

Now I'm adding to that dichotomy. There is another way to segment the world. There are those who feel talent is a value vs. those who believe talent is a cost. Right now I am battling against my own internal Maslowian need for security and fighting myself. I am being wooed by an agency that seems--at least it seems their HR people feel this way--that talent (i.e. me) is an expensive drain on the company. I am feeling the opposite of welcomed.

I have been working for a long time, supervising people, running groups or agencies. I've been a dad for over two decades. The only time I really ever get pissed at people who work for me or my daughters is when they say something equivalent to "Well, I guess I'm just lucky to have a job." Words to that effect are self-deprecating and destructive.

I don't want to work at a place that seems to want to put me in that vassal position--regardless of how shitty the economy is.

For now, I suppose in the twilight of my career, I am unwilling to accept that this is the twilight of my career. I still believe whatever I ask for I am worth it and then some.

And recession or not, I'm not giving up on that belief.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pursuant to my circumcision post.

Check out this "clipping."

Logos 'R' us.

Since creating logos seems like it is today's au courant substitute to actually having an idea, I guess the "service" below was inevitable. An online service to "create a unique, lasting brand for your business."

There is so much wrong with the logo-ization of brands that I'm not exactly sure where to begin. But let me start here. A brand is not defined by a logo. A brand is defined by the way it acts and the way it serves. The nazis had a great logo as did world communism. Those brands have fabulous marques, systems and branding, but who wants to do business with them?

Logos, and as James Thurber wrote, "you could lookit up," developed as signs in preliterate societies so people could recognize a business or, more likely, a tavern.
In and of themselves they have no meaning.

Maybe I am so anti-the-logoization of our business because the dopes who create logos are the biggest arses in the world. Both reductionist and masturbatory in their use of logic to explain why the logo works--why it makes sense. "The bird flying off to the right means freedom" for a logo on a maximum security extraordinary rendition facility.

You get the idea.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"I've always been straight with you."

A New Yorker reminder that some words have no meaning. Neither do some people.

Freelance findings.

McCann--single ply, non-embossed
R/GA--double ply, non-embossed
JWT--single ply, non-embossed
MMB (Boston)--single ply, embossed

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A true story.

I had to go to our safety deposit box because even though I have been employed by five different Interpublic agencies over the years, an Interpublic agency needed to see my Social Security card so as to prove I am a US citizen.

While I was in the little room and going through my documents, I happened to find my bris certificate. I'm not sure why one needs a bris certificate. You can't fake being circumcised. But none-the-less, I have a certificate that affirms I have been ritually circumcised.

Well it turns our I was snipped nearly 52 years ago by Dr. Isidor M. Binder who claimed in his advertising material (which the certificate was attached to) to have invented the "bloodless clamp method." The good doctor must have been a pretty big schmear because he had two offices, one on 393 West End Avenue in Manhattan and one at 1215 Grand Concourse at 167th Street in the Bronx. However, despite having two offices, Dr. Binder had just one phone number LUdlow 8-8000 in Manhattan, which I decided to call, on the dim hope of speaking to him.

Well, his number is now an office selling residential co-ops in what used to be the Plaza Hotel. Naturally, I've googled Binder but can find no info on him.

PS. He did quite a good job.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The new world odor.

I was thinking Shakespeare this morning. Looking to see if I could re-tool Gloucester's speech from "Richard III" into something usable during our current stifling heatwave.

So I google (perhaps a little uncarefully) "now is the winter of" and I get:
"Now is the winter of our discount tent."

Here's the real thing, if you're feeling all literate this morning.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The dumbness that is we.

I have been ruminating lately about the word "we" and its pernicious use in marketing communications when all of a sudden I came across this sign this morning as I walked to the train on my way to work.

"See for yourself why we love our new jeans."

My word, what blatant and unmitigated dumbosity. I know why you love your new jeans, or say you do. You want me to buy them. Do I expect--does anyone in this cynical era expect a marketer to say, "See for yourself why our new jeans will make your ass look as large as a barn door."

We is a pronoun that has to be earned to be used. "We're Con Edison working for you," is bs, not believable because people don't believe Con Edison is working for anything other than triple-double overtime. However, if ESPN says "We love sports," (they wouldn't because it blows) you might give them their we. But thoughts like "We understand," "We're ________ too," strain credulity.

Most people, even the cretins who respond to Shamwoo advertising, understand that most marketing exists to separate you from your money. Nothing inherently good or evil in that. Just that as someone involved in advertising it doesn't make sense to pretend that your client doesn't have their own interests at stake and is doing something for you.

"We want to make your stay as comfortable as we can." Oh, blow it out your arse. You want my money and hope I don't steal all the shampoo in the room so you can use it over again.

Gotta go. My new Gap jeans are riding up.

What's in a name?

Blackwater, the American combination of the Roman Praetorians and the Nazi's Waffen SS, I think you might agree, was a company dedicated to practices that most who believe in the principles of the American constitution would find abhorrent. So, they did what companies do, they changed their name to the unprounceable Xe Services LLC. Of course they also developed a new logo.

As Shakespeare told us, "a rose by any other name still smells like a polyp on an asshole in Bayonne."

There's an advertising point here. Of late I have seen the ascent of "experts" creating brand systems and logos. More often than not, these systems and logi we are told will define a company, not just mark it.

This is bullshit of the very highest, or the very lowest, order.

The Nike swoosh is a great logo because Nike defined, messaged and acted as a great company. The same for Apple. If Apple acted like Dell or Sony, you'd hate their logo.

In other words, I think more often than many like to concede, a logo reflects a company rather than defines it. For instance, if I meet someone named "Ted" I decide whether to like him or not not based on his name and accoutrement, but on his actions and attitudes. Yes, I might in my head have some "Ted Detritus" because I knew an asshole from my childhood named "Ted," but there is no inherent "Tedness," just like there was no inherent "swooshness" until Weiden and some others defined it.

It's not enough to pull from a wide palette of "friendly" colors and "friendly" typefaces and say, "my company, who is in the government-sanctioned assasination business is friendly and likeable now."

You give me 22 minutes, I'll give you a philippic.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

We have a meeting next Wednesday.

We don't have a brief.
We don't have an objective.
We don't have a reason for advertising.
We don't have an idea.
We don't have any information.
We don't know the products.
We don't know what they do.
We don't know why they do what they do.
have time on the Client's calendar

Do one thing. And do it well.

Not long ago I worked on advertising for a Swedish automaker. This particular automaker had about $50 million to spend on advertising. Of course they had planned to put the bulk of that in local TV spots.

I recommended that put the entirety in online. Here's why:

Sad to say, if all you have is $50 million to spend on a car account, you don't really have enough to be on TV. Instead of fighting against a crowd, choose something you can do that no one else can.

If your spend will be buried, create a look, or a voice, or find a device that will let you dominate something.

Of late I am working on two launches. The client wants a lot yet has no money. So the agencies produce forty-seven different units and probably present three times that many. The client will buy a few dozen and put just enough money behind each of those units to assure that no one in the market sees anything.

That might be ok. Since it seems that the reason most agencies do work nowadays is so they can post their :32-second spot on Adweek or YouTube.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

John Updike paints a picture.

Dear Designers who eschew the written word:

John Updike painted this picture (with words) maybe 50 years ago.
Have you ever created an image more vivid, more real, more memorable?

Ex-Basketball Player
by John Updike

Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A great headline about decolletage.

I heard a report on NPR over the weekend. Apparently the German Press went gaga over their Chancellor Angela Merkel in a low-cut gown.

A headline extolling the mammarian marvels of Merkel read: Deutschland Boober Alles.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Last night in New Jersey.

Last night my wife had us go out to a shiva in New Jersey, a service of remembrance for someone who recently died. I was wishing the someone was me.

MIRIAM: You didn't eat? You said you were going to eat.
ME: No, I'm fine.
MIRIAM: You should have told me you weren't going to eat. I would have made some sandwiches.
ME: We're going to eat afterwards.
MIRIAM: You didn't eat. Why did you say you didn't need anything to eat? You said you were going to eat.
ME: I really don't want anything to eat.
MIRIAM: I have some vegetarian chopped liver in the ice box. Why didn't you say you wanted something to eat?
PHIL: He didn't eat. All the way from the city?
MILLIE: Let Miriam make you a sandwich.
LOUISE: That's crazy, not eating.
MIRIAM: Let me make you a sandwich. I didn’t know you didn’t eat.
MILLIE: Why did you say you didn’t want anything to eat?
MIRIAM: Let me make you something. I have a chicken in the icebox.
ME:I’m fine.
MILLIE: All the way he came from the city, with nothing to eat.
MIRIAM: You didn’t eat? You said you were going to eat.
MILLIE: Why didn’t you eat?
MIRIAM: You must be starving.
MILLIE: You told me you were going to eat.
MIRIAM: Are you hungry? I thought you were going to eat.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I might just be working too hard.

I just noticed this phrase in a banner ad.

"click to collapse."

I can collapse on my own.
I don't need to click.

This one's for Pete.

A copywriter. A poet. A mensch.

State of the Union
by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Then there's amortization,
the deadliest of all;
of the heart and soul.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New and improved "Newspeak."

Orwell wrote about Newspeak in his novel 1984. The actual number of words would shrink over time and in the process, complexity of thought, nuance, and even dissent would be un-expressable and would disappear.

Newspeak was a way for power to stay in power. To stop people from thinking and to hide truth.

Just now I came upon a headline on

"A 'Jobless' And 'Wageless' Recovery"

Will someone explain to me in English, not Newspeak, how it can be a recovery if people don't have jobs and if those who do don't make high enough wages to eat.

I think the headline might have been more accurately written thus:
"Wall St. Recovers. Main St. Fucked."

Words vs. deeds.

You hear a lot, from clients, from the trade press, from cliche slingers about the importance of story-telling in advertising. Then the time comes to tell a story and you start hearing things like, "nobody reads," "too many words," "who cares." As an existentialist might say, 'there's a subject-object chasm.' Or some such.

I just came upon this piece from Scotland that is wonderful. It's all about the product. All about the brand. All about their tagline. And a wonderful, watchable, shareable story.

I don't say this often, but I wish I had done it.

Take a look at it here.
Normally, I'd upload the video, but I'm working on a fuhkaktah freelancer's mac and I can't.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Signs of the times.

Years ago nameplates at agencies used to convey a certain permanence. If you watch movies from the 40s, you might come upon a scene in which some old pro is hand-lettering someone's name on the frosted glass of an office door. (The painter was always put upon. Comings and goings were his bane and his having to start over was always good for a gag.) At my first job, I had raised letters glued onto my door. At my second, I had my name embossed in a piece of plastic. Somewhere along the way such symbols of permanence were replaced by your name printed on paper and slid into a lucite sleeve.

The agency at which I'm freelancing now is burgeoning. As such much is temporary. Even the Men's room signs are Xeroxes of older Men's room signs.

They've even Xeroxed the Braille that says "men" underneath the word "men."

BTW, the sign above says "do not touch."

A glimpse of the future.

“Am I to understand you once did a beer commercial…”
“Your Honor, I can explain…”
“You once did a beer commercial that didn’t end in a fart joke.”
“Your honor, it was for a high-end imported be..."
“This panel holds no truck with such carping and caviling.
Once in fact you did a pharma commercial that had no woman
arms-outstretched swinging gaily in a field of high-grass.
You once did a soda spot without a half-naked babe.”
“Your honor, I can explain.”
“This panel accepts no explanation.”
“But but…”
“We sentence you to six months of low-paying freelance.”
“100 un-returned phone calls from former friends…”
“And then a job writing retail catalogs.”

I woke up with a jerk.
I am now firmly against Obama’s advertising Death Panels.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

T-shirts as economic indicators.

In yesterday's New York Times there was an article about the Italian suitmaker, Brioni (makers of suits that run up to $47,000) in response to our current Depression coming out with a line of t-shirts. Fortunately, those t-shirts will start at a pittance, just $250.

Your can read about it here:

I thought about this as I was walking my dog just now and saw this printed on a t-shirt. My guess is it cost far less than $250.

Cliche alert.

Today's cliche alert goes beyond the smiling aquiline-nosed black person with the faux dreadlocks laughing uproariously while sitting next to the wise Latina and the glasses-wearing blond. They are huddled around a computer monitor or speaking on the phone. They aren't people, NO! They are a gorgeous mosaic of happy diversity and soul-less pulchritude.

Today's cliche might even be dumber than that, though probably just as artificial. It is the wind turbine. Today, if a company wants to convey that it is green and with it, they put a wind turbine in their ad. You'd think, judging by all the wind turbines in ads, that gasoline stations would be closing left and right and would be replaced by kite shops.

Undoubtedly there are more wind turbines than ever in the US and they probably are proliferating like rabbits or account people, I suppose that's fine, and I have nothing against them as alternative energy. I just wish creative people would use a little energy in coming up with an alternative.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The investigation is ongoing.

I just heard an item on NPR about the mid-air crash over the Hudson River of a small airplane and a helicopter. Naturally a local Congressman called for a study and naturally a federal agency, this time the FAA, replied "an investigation is ongoing."

An ongoing investigation, like a committee to streamline agency processes, or an ad industry diversity council is a grand subterfuge. You hear a lot about investigations, committees, councils, ad hoc groups beginning, you seldom if ever hear of their accomplishments.

So add that phrase to our list of "newspeak." An investigation is ongoing. It means nothing will happen.

Publicis buys Razorfish.

Since I don't have an advanced degree in finance, an MBA or any particular actuarial skill, I can't for the life of me figure out why I should care that the fourth-largest holding company has added another web shop to its roster. To be clear, Razorfish is now part of Vivaki, which is a group of digital holdings within a holding company. In other words, not only do we have holding companies, we have holding companies for holding companies.

I don't know about you, but I'm corn-fused.

Years ago the AAAA's used to publish a "red book" that listed all their member agencies. In pre-internet days if you were looking for an advertising job, this book was a convenient compendium. (You never wanted to be "caught" with one because it indicated you were "looking." So a partner and I pasted the cover of the Manhattan phone book on the red book we pilfered.) The red book told you the addresses, accounts and key personnel at virtually every agency. Back in those days none of us wanted to work in an agency that didn't have a creative person at the top of their red book listing. In those days, that was possible. In fact, the best agencies usually had a copywriter or an art director as the President or CEO.

Nowadays, of course, such ascendancy is virtually unheard of. And even if a creative person is near the top, that creative usually has to report to a short foreigner who runs the holding company.

I dunno about you, but if I were looking to hire a military force, I'd want it run by soldiers. If I were looking for a manager of a baseball club, I'd want to find a baseball guy. If I were looking for an insurance policy I wouldn't want it written by a violinist.

However, when it comes to picking agencies we choose among holding companies that for the most part are run by financiers and arbitragers. Not advertising people. That makes as much sense to me as trying to make cotton candy out of cement.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

These things drive me crazy.

People who misuse the words quote and quotation. We quote someone--quote is a verb. What we quote is a quotation; quotation is a noun.

People who modify the word unique. They say, this is very unique, somewhat unique, pretty unique. Unique is an absolute. It means unlike anything else. It cannot be modified. OK.

People who misspell the word a lot. It is not alot. It is a lot.

People who misuse the word literally. Literally means that it actually happened. So if you say I literally laughed my ass off you should probably find a doctor.

People who sign their emails with cheers. Unless they are English. If they are English, they are assholes. If they are not English they are wannabee English assholes.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Small vs. Big.

For the last week or so I have been partnering with a talented guy who is in the throes of starting his own advertising agency. (He/they actually had a small shout-out in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.) Here's what's happened. We created about six different campaigns and are presenting to the prospective client two-weeks early.

I have worked at a lot of different agencies, most of them big, all of them burdened by bureaucracy, second-guessing, fear, ego wars and more nefarious antics. Working at this start-up is like being in "Friends," without all the attractive people, the sex and the banal dialogue and innuendo.

You know what?
It's been fun.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Budd Schulberg, 1914-2009.

When I was a graduate student in English Literature, I did a Master's thesis on the Watts Writers' Workshop, an organization that was dedicated to encouraging young ghetto dwellers to write. This was 1979, just 14 years after the bloody Watts riots.

I read about this guy, Budd Schulberg who was behind organizing this group. I was just 21 and had no idea who he was, so I headed down to Grand Central Terminal where they used to have phone books from all over the country and I searched until I found his number. (This was life before the internet.) I called Mr. Schulberg. He answered and he agreed to meet with me and answer questions I had for him about the Watts Writers Workshop. (This was life before the internet as well.)

We met at a small theatre, early, long before the show and talked beforehand and went out for dinner afterwards. He was also kind enough to introduce me to writers from the workshop with whom I could speak.

I bring this up not just to name drop. But because Schulberg was a writer who believed in the power of writing. Here are the last two paragraphs of The New York Times Obituary of Schulberg:

“I’d like to be remembered as someone who used their ability as a novelist or as a dramatist to say the things he felt needed to be said about the society” while being “as entertaining as possible,” he said in the 2006 interview.

“Because if you don’t entertain," he said, “nobody’s listening.”

That's good writing advice no matter what you write.

64 years ago today.


Tens of thousands died in a flash.
Tens of thousands more died quickly thereafter of radiation sickness.
The world changed.

I am not here to judge the wisdom of using the bomb, whether more American lives were spared because the war with Japan was brought to a speedier conclusion. I am here to say this was an event in world history that should give us a moment of pause. Something about which we should think. Take a moment and consider nuclear arsenals today.

Instead we talk about banalities. Paula Abdul. The New York Times has a front page story about golf courses using new methods to save water and another about Laura Luke's homegrown cosmetics empire.

Neil Postman 24-years ago wrote a book called "Amusing Ourselves To Death." Banality doesn't kill as quickly as fission. My guess is, though, that it kills more completely.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Blog Shack.

There's a flap going on in the ad world now about Butler Shine rebranding Radio Shack "The Shack."


I've never understood stores that call themselves Shacks, or Barns, or Hovels, or Holes. Let me put it this way, Victoria's Secret is way more seductive than the name
"The Lingerie Lean-to" or "The Panty Pied-a-Terre."

Radio Shack will blow no matter what it's called.
Get over it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Ringelmann Effect

Over the past few years so many agencies and clients have decided that team work and "brainstorming" is the answer to all our woes. I have always been excoriated because I hate working in groups. I like to work alone. I like to work while I'm walking the dog, taking a shower, doing the dishes, sleeping. I tend to take a problem and roll it around in my head until I come up with something I like.

Just now I read a book review in The Wall Street Journal of a new book called "I Hate People!" by Jonathan Littman & Marc Hershon. Read the whole thing here:

Here's what I liked and I am quoting from the review: "Teamwork, the authors say, suffocates creativity and has its own limitations. They describe a classic experiment done nearly a century ago by French agricultural engineer Maximilien Ringelmann. He measured people pulling on a rope connected to a strain gauge, first as individuals and then as members of tug-of-war teams. The result: A person pulls harder alone than as part of a group. Ringelmann dubbed the phenomenon "social loafing." Today it is known simply as the Ringelmann Effect, and what it means in the real world, say Messrs. Littman and Hershon, is that 'the more people you throw at a problem, the less each contributes.'"

Perhaps I don't need to say it, but I read the review and within seconds ordered the book. All by myself.

What's your ratio?

The New York City school system, like so many giant bureaucracies reputedly has more people managing teachers than teachers. The US Military operates in much the same way. We have nearly two-million people in uniform, but our capabilities are stretched when 100,000 soldiers or 1/20th, are in the field. Because most of those two-million are administrators. Most organizations run this way, including of course, advertising agencies. In fact, assuming you still have a job, look around your agency. How many people make the product (ads) versus how many people administer timesheets or tell you you can't have a certain technology that will make your ads better.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Painting to stay alive.

There is an interesting obituary in Sunday's New York Times about a holocaust survivor who survived--or was spared by Dr. Josef Mengele--because she could paint. Mengele who wanted to prove the genetic inferiority of Romany or Gypsy prisoners was unhappy with the photographs being taken of those people, particularly of the skin-tone they depicted. He found Dinah Gottliebova, a Czech prisoner and artist and had her paint portraits of the prisoners and also murals for a children's ward. Gottliebova was spared and was also able to save her mother.

You can read the Times' obituary here:

For the last 60 years of her life the artist tried to get her paintings back from the museum at Auschwitz, to no avail. Gottliebova's struggle (she changed her name to Dina when she came to the States and Babbitt was her married last name) is chronicled in the documentary posted here.

No real advertising point. But I guess this says something about integrity and pride in one's work. See, I told you there was no real advertising point.

A nautical ditty.

Driving up to Cape Cod early this morning, I remembered this little piece of maritime doggerel.

Red sky in the morning,
Sailor take warning.
Red sky at night,
Sailor get buggered up the arse.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A message to hipsters.

My clothes are not ironic.
My shoes are not ironic.
My dog is not ironic.
The pillows on my retro sofa are not ironic.
The upholstery in my car is not ironic.
The music on my iTunes is not ironic.

I am ironic.
And I don't need accoutrement to advertise that.

Stupid asses.