Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's, 1991.

On New Year's Eve, 1991, I was trapped in my office at a midtown high-rise. I was staying all night, or planning to. The agency was pitching the $200 million global account of Poughkeepsie Woolens, and I was leading the pitch. The pitch was January 6th--less than a week away. December had come and gone and we were nowhere.

It was just a few minutes before midnight and I was still at my IBM Selectric. Suddenly a man appeared in the doorway of my office. It was David Ogilvy himself, red suspenders and all.

"M'boy," (he always called me 'm'boy,' a term of endearment.) "What are you doing here on New Year's Eve, m'boy."

"Working on the Poughkeepsie Woolens pitch, sir."

"Well, m'boy. You know that unless your advertising is built on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night."


"You know, m'boy, the consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife."

I nodded.

"Well then, m'boy, let's see what you have." He walked to my typewriter and looked at the taglines I was writing. I had compiled a list of about forty.

"That's it, m'boy! That's the line!" And then he read it: "Poughkeepsie Woolens. We don't make woolens, we make the things that make the woolens."

"Y y you like it, Sir?"

"Like it? I love it! I'd pursue that line like a pig pursues truffles!"

With that he tossed me my coat, put on his and we celebrated New Year's in Time's Square together.

I miss the old man.


I've noticed from a lot of my Facebook friends that they are wishing goodbye and good riddance to 2010. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that 2010 was a particularly dreadful year.

I'm not really sure where this attitude comes from.

I'm not really sure what year in the 53 or so I have lived through would be or would have been something better than dreadful.

Yeah, I know, I'm hardly an optimist. But let's think about this.

During virtually all the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, the specter of nuclear annihilation hung over us. We had red alerts during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a president in Reagan who seem to think a) Nuclear war was winnable and b) It's all some kind of a joke anyway.

We had Viet Nam and major metropolitan areas ravaged by race riots and drug-induced crime and mayhem.

New York in the 70s teetered on the brink of anarchy. Soldiers shot students in Ohio. Millions of people died of AIDs. In the 50s, 60s and into the 70s, millions of black people couldn't vote, eat in restaurants, use public transportation. Disney, famous for his mice and his anti-semitism refused to hire black workers for Disneyland until 1963.

We've lived through sundry genocides. In the former Yugoslavia and in wide swaths of Africa. Pakistan and India have been pointing nukes at each other on hair trigger for about the past two decades.

We've had Bhopal. Thousands of disappearances in Argentina. American support for fascist regimes in much of the world, Chile, Viet Nam, El Salvador.

And as for advertising, we've been looking back to some purported "golden age" forever. It always used to be better.

My point is simple. There's a lot of pain and suffering in the world. Every year has millions of offenses large and small that impel wise men to think of suicide. But we get through these offenses.

Work hard. Do your job well. Take care of your family. Be nice to strangers. Try to listen.

That's all we can do.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Advertising and snow removal.

If you live in or around New York, or I suppose just about anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard, over the past week, you've been inundated with something on the order of 20-inches of snow. New York's mayor, the imperial billionaire Michael Bloomberg, has taken quite a lot of heat for the torpid pace of snow removal--particularly in the outer boroughs. I happen to like Bloomberg. The city for the most part runs efficiently. He seems to be a good manager. We've been relatively scandal-free. And we've had none of the bombastic neo-fascist crony politics of Rudy Guiliani.

In any event, the onslaught and subsequent clearance of snow has led me to think of advertising. Yes, it has.

Right now, at least in Manhattan, major avenues are clear, and many side streets are being cleared. However, at many corners, snow is piled shoulder high, with no path cut out from the curb to the crosswalk. It makes getting around difficult, treacherous and soggy.

It occurred to me that the city has done a good job of mass--clearing the bulk, but a shitty job of targeted--clearing the way for pedestrians. What you really need for effective snow removal and effective marketing is a mixture of big shovels and targeted shoveling.

Snow, in my metaphor, is indifference. Mass media (plows) can begin to clear it away, but to finish the job, you likely need one-to-one efforts (shovels.)

Too many clients, agencies, etc. in an effort to assert the primacy of their particular media have ignored that it is a combination of forces that will yield the most effective results.

"Yeah, but it sucks."

Last night my wife and I went to the Metropolitan Opera to see their production of Debussy's "Pelléas et Mélisande." It made me think of so much of what happens in the closed system of an agency.

Here's what I mean: The production of "Pelléas et Mélisande" was lavish. The orchestra was in fine fiddle. The performers were technically impressive.

But after two acts I turned to my ever-patient wife and said "Do you want to leave?" It's kind of hard to be critical of an opera. You're somewhat afraid that the fault for not liking it is yours--you're somehow not cultured enough or something. What's more, the tickets were expensive.

My wife looked and me and answered, "Do you want to leave?" Yeah. We both did. So, we walked out.

Very often at work, you are presented work that ticks all the boxes. The creatives relate to you the obstacles they overcame to get the work produced. The hoops that leapt through. And so on.

Yeah. I get it. I understand you worked through four weekends and missed Patricia's baby shower.

But none of that matters.

If it sucks.

Pelléas et Mélisande sucked. It had no power. It was languid, lazy and long. I don't know what demons Debussy was facing when he composed the opera. I don't really care how it was reviewed a century ago when it premiered.

All I know is I was bored silly.

And in the end, that's all that matters.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The usefulness of niche.

Somewhere along the way, some book I was reading mentioned the 19th Century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner and a particular symphony he composed, his 9th, I think. So, I downloaded the thing and was smitten. There's not much that appeals to me more than 'Sturm und Drang' (storm and stress) and Bruckner's music seemed to capture that in spades. Since that original downloading, I've downloaded more Bruckner and have found most everything he's composed to my liking.

Last night, I, uncharacteristically did not go back to work after jury duty was dismissed. It's the end of the year and I've got everything pretty much under control prior to my upcoming vacation. What's more, the case we began hearing, another bout of devastation wreaked by drugs and American drug laws, was more than a little depressing. So, I decided to stop at the last place in my neighborhood that sells recorded music to see if they had any Bruckner. I was hoping against hope that they'd have some spectacular post-holiday 50%-off bonanza I could avail myself of.

Except they had no Bruckner.

What's happened in our world is we've become bell-curved. Every industry aims to satisfy no one or nothing more than the mass of the mass. Anything that's not wildly popular disappears from view. (Yes, I can find Bruckner on iTunes, but I'm making a point here, or trying to.)

What we are experiencing is a massification of everything. Everything we can buy has to appeal to literally hundreds of millions of people lest it cut against the grain of some MBA's "go to market strategy."

What we're left with is a great bland middle muddle of nothingness. You can buy things that manufacturers (or, more accurately, marketers) want to sell you, but you can't buy exactly what you want unless it coincides with what is most wanted.

Think I'm wrong? Try to find an iPod case that protects the screen and doesn't have a belt clip. Try to find a garbage pail with a lift lid that attaches to a cabinet door. Try to find an oven-range combination with an upper oven and a lower one. Try to find Bruckner in a chain store.

My guess is that my idiosyncratic wants are shared, in toto, by millions. But because they're not shared by dozens or hundreds of millions, my wants are not met.

The same sort of group think, of course, pummels our industry as well. We see commercial after commercial that appeals, I suppose, to some purported mass. If I see one more Hyundai commercial with 20-something skinny-jeaned hipsters singing Christmas carols I think I'll shoot my TV like that guy from Wisconsin did.

I guess my point is simple, or at least I think it is. Useful, important, moneyed groups of people are being ignored by marketers and advertisers.

One last example. Saab.

Saab used to make a quirky car that had great appeal to about 35,000-50,000 Americans a year. I'm sure there's a great deal of money to be made in selling that many cars if that's how many you want to sell. But someone, somewhere (probably Detroit) said, "we can sand down the rough edges of Saabs and they'll appeal to many more people. Look, BMW sells 300,000 cars a year. With GM showrooms and marketing muscle, we can dramatically improve Saab's sales.'

Except they destroyed the brand. By making what made it special generic. By trying to make it appeal to everyone, it lost all the appeal it ever had.

Soviet history, 1917-1953.

There was an old bastard named Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
That's a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That old bastard Stalin did ten in.

I'm reading Christopher Hitchens' memoir "Hitch 22." In it, he cites the above limerick written by one of the foremost historians of the Red Revolution, Robert Conquest. If you get in the mood to improve your vocabulary, to hone your use of elegant imprecations and curses, and you feel like reading a bit of good writing, pick it up. Not sure that you need read it cover to cover as I am, but if you do, you're likely to find something funny on nearly every page.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snowy New York.

It's snowing like a sonovabitch and cold as a witch's teat outside, as Salinger's Caufield would say. The wind is blowing hard, particularly on the avenues where there is no shelter to block its progress. The tide is going out and accelerates the wind as it blows down the East River and into the bay. What a perfect night to have my wife send me out for a 3-4 pound kosher chicken cut into eighths.

What I realized while walking to the kosher butcher is I can't begrudge my wife sending me on this mission. Making chicken is my wife's hobby and this is how she shares it with me. I like to read or watch Josef Von Sternberg silent movies. Three arrived in the mail over the weekend, "The Docks of New York," "The Last Command" and "Underworld." My wife likes to make chickens. We all have our hobbies.

I bundled up my big red jacket--the jacket I wear only when it seems like the world is ending. Underneath it I wear a hooded sweatshirt. I've got a big Russian hat on and leather gloves lined with cashmere. I walk past the doormen, looking nervous and hangdog. Yesterday was thousands of dollars in tips, today it's shoveling and snow-blowing.

The snow is only, at this point, about four inches deep and traffic still moves, though it moves gingerly. Usually I am an inveterate jaywalker, rushing across avenue against the light, when there is an opening. Not today. Every red light has three or four cars skidding through it, unable to stop. The garbage trucks are out, girded with plows and chains, they are clearing in force, looking like a convoy accompanying ships and guarding against U-Boats.

The rabbi-butchers are pissed that I'm in their store. Their sense of duty demands that they stay open until closing time, but they're irked I wasn't in earlier. They growl and point me to the chickens, already cut-up and waiting for my wife's uxorial ministrations.

And now I walk home. It seems to have gotten colder during the five minutes I was in the butcher shop. I make it back to my building. The doormen are out with shovels. My wife is out with her spatula.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Good writing from Jonathan Swift and A.O. Scott.

"Gulliver's Travels" with Jack Black is reviewed in today's "New York Times" by A.O. Scott, writing as Swift.

Well worth the three minutes. That is if you like satire, wit and skill.


There's a guy on jury duty with me who works for the New York Department of Sanitation. (This is one of the joys of jury duty--seriously--you are thrust together with a fair degree of intimacy with people with whom you would normally have no intercourse.) I noticed him a couple days ago, wearing his jacket with the Department of Sanitation crest on its front, a big DSNY in orange on its back and the slogan "New York's Strongest."

What struck me about this guy, this jacket and, if I may extrapolate, this demographic is that they actually wear their clothing without a sense of irony.

Ironic clothing is of course all the rage among the hipster set. They wear their trucker caps and other accoutrement, flaunting really, their ever-so-coolness.

Here's the thing. You can call such wardrobing irony. I prefer to think of it as misanthropy. A mocking of people different than you. It's not nice. It's ignorant. And it's a form of bullying.

Christopher Hitchens in his memoir "Hitch 22" draws a distinction between those who earn money and those who make it. Those who earn it build things and make things and do things. Those who make it manipulate markets, engage in sleight of hand and financial hocus pocus.

It's easy to make fun of people. It's easy to think that your hipster tribe is what everyone else aspires to be. It's easy to distance yourself from the reality of how people live, think and act.

Our job as advertisers is, in a sense, to love people. To understand. And through understanding find what's important to them and appeal to them.

Sorry for the polemic.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You gotta have heart.

If you're a believer, as I am, that we are living through an era of panem et circenses, in which the masses are appeased by spectacles and such, you probably disdain sports as much as I do. I see no appeal and derive no charm from hopped up money grubbers playing meaningless games.

What's more, over the years, sports have gotten worse. With the advent of the 24-hour sports cycle, the proliferation of statistics threatens to overwhelm. Coverage begets data which begets more coverage which begets more data. If you want to know how good a player is, don't look at how his team performs, or what he does, consult, instead, some computer program.

This same miasma of analysis has, of course, taken over our business and those, too, of our clients. We rarely consider our gut reaction to spots. Let's look at the data is our shibboleth. Consider how we "review" people, with convoluted language and abstruse measurements that are all but meaningless. (In an advertising agency, there should be one criterion for review: "It's Friday before a Monday new business pitch. I would/would not call on this person.")

All that being said, with the New York Knicks moderately resurgent, I did read an article on the sports page this morning about a point guard for the Knicks whose name escapes me. He is favorably compared to another guard whom the Knicks, last year, passed up on drafting. And then came the kicker. The Knick's coach had this to say about his guard: “The biggest thing is that it’s hard to measure heart," D’Antoni said. “And he has a big heart. And when he gets ticked off, he’s ready to roll. You also don’t calculate what that means to the other players, who feed off that energy and that meanness and that toughness."


It's what's missing from most analysis.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Get serious.

According to this week's Advertising Age and data from ZenithOptimedia, $151.5 billion is spent on advertising in the US. That's more than is spent in Japan, Germany, China, the UK, Brazil, France and Italy combined. It's roughly $25 for every man, woman and child on Earth.

I think about this data because in awards shows, portfolios, "creativity" magazines and the like, I never see ads for real products or services.

I know we are just days from Christmas, so agencies are showing their creative prowess via holiday cards, I guess that's ok. But this week's "Creativity Online" features holiday cards from BBH, New York, Wieden Amsterdam, something called "Lappi Leaks" from Mother in London, Making a Snowflake Yours from TBWA, London and from Wunderman, "The Longest Cracker."

Advertising is a serious business. We are meant to define and propagate brands and to sell products and services. The solipsistic, self-referential trivialization of our business by the awards-industrial complex--more than procurement, more than commoditization, is ruining our business.

TV is dead, cont'd.

I ran across this graph in Advertising Age yesterday which proves irrevocably that television advertising is dead. Look how dead it is. It's growing even faster than internet advertising and is 250% its size.

Then I ran across this data from an article in "The New York Times," in an article called "The Myth of Fast-Forwarding Past the Ads."
1. Only 38% of US households have a DVR.
2. According to Neilsen, "In homes that have DVRs and among 18- to 49-year-olds, ratings for the commercials for prime-time shows rise by 44 percent when playback within three days is counted."

Monday, December 20, 2010

25 things I will not miss.

1. People who use Facebook to thank entire countries or politicians for behaving a certain way. "Thanks North Korea for not escalating."
2. Anything 2.0
3. Jury duty.
4. Engagement.
5. Advertising models.
6. Headhunters who don't return calls.
7. Agencies that don't return calls.
8. People who ask if they can borrow your brain.
9. People who show up late.
10. Clients who don't say 'thank you.'
11. Cheap hotel rooms.
12. People in finance who tell you you have 2 days to expense 2 months of receipts.
13. Timesheets.
14. Timesheet police.
15. People whose job it is to know what you're working on who constantly ask you what you're working on.
16. Agencies that want to be hot as opposed to good.
17. Best practices.
18. "Liking."
19. People who can't show you what they've produced.
20. Brainstorming.
21. Collaborating.
22. More than three rounds of changes.
23. Meetings between 12-2 in which no lunch is provided.
24. All agency emails.
25. In flight announcements telling you how to fasten a seat-belt.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A slow walk through a fast city.

Ah, maybe it's a function of age. Maybe of maturity. Maybe of wearing a heavy coat and carrying a heavy bag.

Yesterday, I got out of jury duty early and had some time to myself before I needed to be back to the office. So I put Gerry Mulligan on my iPod--music for the city--and walked from downtown, Centre and Franklin to the Strand Bookstore on 12th and Broadway.

Google maps says the walk is between 1.5 and 2.1 miles, but I walked through whole worlds. The majesty, faded, of our judicial world. The grand marble edifices with the important words. Up through the bustle and the smells of Chinatown where I'm about a head taller than everyone else. Past the Victorian ornament of the Tweed graft of the 19th Century Police Headquarters, now multi-million dollar condos. Then through Soho and hipster-ville, chock-a-block with stores selling nothing I need, skinny clothing, mostly, and impossible restaurants where the food counts second.

Finally, there was Broadway, the spinal cord of New York. The NYU-ers were out and the stores are cheaper here. My iPod now was playing Coltrane's amazing "My Favorite Things." I reached the Strand and its 18 miles of books. It was crowded like a Hollywood opening. Its narrow passages were no place for a big man with a big bag.

I stayed for about 30 minutes and found one gem. A hardcover of Pauline Kael's "5001 Nights at the Movies." Thumbnail reviews from the incisive and caustic. Sure I could find it online. They had databased the book. But that misses the point.

I paid and walked still further to the 8th Avenue subway. Just two stops till the office.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lost in Miami.

Yesterday from out of the blue I received a note from a young copywriter who is looking to move. She wondered if I would take a look at her book a provide some feedback. And, if I would help her insinuate herself into the agency at which I work.

There was a campaign for a kid's toy. A toy that's sold well for probably 60 years and needs no advertising, though their ads (spreads, of course) regularly festoon the pages of awards annuals. There was a campaign for a sneaker company impelling young wearers to graffiti rooftops rather than streetscapes. There was an ad for a dog food that talked neither about dog food nor dogs.

In all, a typical book from Miami Ad School.

Oh so cool. And oh so irrelevant.

Here's what I wrote to the young copywriter:

"I need to start this note by admitting that, while I'm not old, I am somewhat old school.

I think your portfolio is good for what it is.
But there are no ads in it.
No things that are hard to sell.
Nothing that feels like it takes a mainstream brand and helps it sell what they make
or helps regenerate and revitalize their brand.
I look for books with that kind of rigor.
Cool is not the only strategy.
How do you sell a Nissan Maxima?
What makes it better than a Camry or an Accord?
Not just cooler, but what's important about the machine,
the design, the engineering, the experience it delivers.

Yes, I come from Ogilvy and Ally & Gargano.
We examined real products with real in market problems.
That's the day in day out job of advertising.

I worry with your book.
How do I put you on an assignment for a client that spends
$10 million with my agency when I don't see any ads for
products or services?

Sorry if I'm being harsh.
And I'll admit, I think Miami Ad School has lost their way.

77% of the wealth in the US is controlled by people 55+.
Where are ads to those people?"

Thursday, December 16, 2010


One thing I've learned in my life, my life in advertising, my life as a leader of groups, my life with my two daughters, is that it's hardly worthwhile, or in any event, it's significantly less fruitful, in the absence of trust.

Maybe the notion of trust is rattling around in my brain because it's the center of so much of what goes on in jury duty.

In any event, what occurred to me yesterday is that so much of the infrastructure of client organizations is based on the absence of trust. You need to run your work through a gantlet of levels, through a labyrinth of reviews because of that absence.

Showing work to clients isn't about doing what's right, it's about doing everything they "asked" for.

And then going through eleventeen layers to show them you listened.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Don't tell me to cheer up.

Considering the paucity of "comments" I get on this blog, I get a fair amount of advice that I need to cheer up. That I am expressing disdain for my current place of employment, my clients or--my calling, advertising itself.

Let me explain why I ignore these.

I am a perfectionist. I see the world and like Ahab, I curse the gods that it is not a better place. My drive, my anxieties, my goals and my passion is to create an environment where people (including myself) can excel and by excelling create work that works for the client and touches and inspires people.

That is often not possible. I should relax and make, I'm told, "tactical retreats." To that I say, "Bosh!" and "Bosh again."

As I have written in this space before, George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

I'm told my spirit is not a long-lasting one. And the people who tell me that may be right. Even my therapist tells me to take a deep breath and "let things go."

I'm sorry. That's not how I was made.

And by the way, George Bernard Shaw lived to the age of 94.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Observation from an account planner.

You don't look at the mantle piece when you're poking the fire.


Jury Duty isn't a great deal of fun. But like with most things, you can learn a lot from it.

Over the past few cases I've noticed that cops and their associated law enforcement officials speak a language that's entirely their own. It's a combination of street slang for narcotics, acronyms and other threads of language that make up jargon.

It's not unusual to hear a sentence like this, "An undercover from ICE picked up the perp for a hand to hand of an 8-ball."

That means and undercover agent from Immigration Customs Enforcement picked up a perpetrator for exchanging 1/8 of an ounce of cocaine."

Most businesses, clubs, tribes, religions, even families, have their own languages, their own patois, argot or...jargon. Charitably speaking, jargon is linguistic shorthand that helps a group communicate.

It only becomes a problem when the prevalence of jargon begins to change the way you actually think. And for the purposes of our business, has a negative impact on our language of communication.

Years ago when I worked on IBM personal computers, the client insisted on saying a particular machine was "just 1-inch thin." I fought them vociferously. No one--except a jargonnaire says "1-inch thin." It's not the way people talk and rings phony and false.

I was taught by one of the best writers in the business never to use jargon, never to use a big word when a small one will do.

That's how you make the complex simple.

Which is one of the toughest, and most important, jobs in advertising.


When I was a kid, say about nine, I was riding my bike home from school and was mugged. Just to shake things up a little bit, prior to being mugged I had meandered around a bit and rode home a different way than usual, through a different neighborhood.

I wasn't in that neighborhood long before I sensed that I was being chased--chased by two older kids on their bikes. They caught up to me and forced me to stop by a vacant lot that ran alongside the road.

I'm not sure what these hooligans intended to do with me. Kids in those days hardly carried any money, so they could scarcely go through the trouble of chasing me for 35 cents. Maybe they just felt like beating the shit out of a little kid, a perfectly acceptable hobby in the late 60s. Or maybe they thought they could do well by stealing my bike out from under me. Chances are, they were bored and I was something to do.

The two kids shoved me around a little bit. They called me a fuck. Then one of them bent over to let the air out of my front tire. As he was doing so, I karate chopped him on the back of the neck. He fell down and I rode off.

"Hey," they called after me, "We we're just messing around. Come get your tire cap." Naturally I ignored them and rode to safety.

I guess I think about this this morning because work can so often feel like being mugged--ganged up on by fools or bullies.

The only difference is there's no one to punch and you can't just ride off.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A dolt education.

Oh, you meant adult education.

Little boxes.

Last week was my birthday--or the anniversary of my birth, as my punctilious brother would point out. My wife gave me a book called "The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms" by Nassim Nicholas Talem, a Distinguished Professor at New York University.

I'm not sure about Taleb. I began a previous book of his "The Black Swan," but didn't feel he or it had the gravity to warrant a week of my leisure. I'm wary, and always will be of people who have crap like this written in their "About the Author." "...which has spent more than a year on The New York Times bestseller list and has become an intellectual, social, and cultural touchstone." Oh, just kill me now.

"The Bed of Procrustes" is a book of aphorisms. Reading it is like reading a carton-load of fortune cookies. Talem is Seth Godin with 20 more points of IQ. Or 30.

Nevertheless, here's one I liked. Maybe because it suits my mood on a crappy Monday. "They are born, then put in a box; they go home to live in a box; they study by ticking boxes; they go to what is called "work" in a box, where they sit in their cubicle box; they drive to the grocery store in a box to buy food in a box; they go to the gym in a box to sit in a box; they talk about thinking "outside the box"; and when they die they are put in a box. All boxes, Euclidian, geometrically smooth boxes."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Two kinds of writers.

There's a wonderful "appraisal" in "The New York Times" sports pages today written by veteran sportswriter Harvey Araton. The piece is called "Mensches and Mentors in the Press Box" and it's an appreciation of what Araton learned from two famed New York writers who died this past year, Maury Allen and Vic Ziegel. You can read the piece here:

Here's the part I really liked because it seemed to me to explain how so many of us in advertising deal with the pressure of our trade:

“The deadline is the enemy,” [Ziegel} once wrote in standard Ziegelese. “It’s there, at the same time, every night. You relax your fingers, and it comes closer. You can’t fake it out because it doesn’t move. It grows closer and towers over you. It doesn’t understand that you’re trying to do the yeoman thing. Or that you need a better word than fast to describe a base runner. Very fast is very bad. Fleet is a bank. Swift, nimble, speedy, no, no, no. Fast is starting to look better. There’s coffee spilled on my notes. And the stranger in the next chair is on the phone telling somebody named Sweetie he’s on the way home.”

"Allen was that proverbial neighbor, packing up as others bogged down on the transitions between their first and second paragraphs. “A billion Chinese don’t give a damn,” he would say on his way out. As the years passed, as my generation filled seats around him, some wondered if Allen gave a damn. What they missed was that in the process of writing countless articles and 38 books, he had come to realize that natural storytelling — Allen’s specialty from ballparks nationwide — was not brain surgery, as long as the ego got out of the way and the story told itself."

I guess I've always been more a Maury Allen than a Vic Ziegel. Never sweating too much a deadline, confident that the right word would be there and the larger idea was more important than the mot juste.

Or not.

There are times, of course, I struggled. I gnaw my fingers and sweat out something good.
Or try to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New York, 1979.

I just read an obituary in "The New York Times," of a jazz musician named James Moody who died just yesterday at the age of 85. Though I never heard Moody play, at least I was never aware that I heard him play, his obituary brought me back.

When I was just 21 and a graduate student at Columbia University, there was a bar in my neighborhood, on 114th and Broadway called the West End. It was a big, dusty place, with no cover charge, where you could buy a beer for two dollars and pretty much spend the night communing with that.

But the real attraction of the place wasn't the beer or the lack of incandescence. It was the jazz. Jazz has been pretty much dieing since it was born, whenever that was, and the West End was home to dieing jazz musicians.

Just about every night featured a combo, four guys, three or five, who had played with Basie and Ellington and were now out on their own. Supplementing their social security or their savings by playing from 10PM to 2AM for, primarily, Columbia grad students.

The musicians were old pros, Ellington himself had said this about Russell Procope, a saxophonist and clarinetist whose band I used to hear: 'He's an utterly sober and reliable musician, always to be depended upon." The musicians were restrained. They were in for the long-haul. There was no longer any big time to be had. They were playing not for a hit but for their lives.

One bass player I remember, though I've lost his name, never opened his eyes. He pawed at his huge instrument like a bear at a beehive, leaning on his bass for balance. He looked like half of a couple at a dance marathon. He wouldn't be standing if it weren't for his partner.

Regardless, every once in a while, from his stand-up bass, a line would emerge, and for a riff or two, all was perfect in the world.

You might even be moved to buy another beer to nurse.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


As you may or may not know, I'm on Grand Jury duty now, hearing cases involving the Special Narcotics Task Force. I am charged to serve afternoons, from 2-5 until December 30th.

Grand Juries are meant to hear a lot of cases and act on them quickly. We are not brought together to assess guilt or innocence, we are convened to assess whether or not there is reasonable evidence that a crime or crimes have been committed. If we vote yes, the defendants are indicted and will stand trial at a later date.

I call it judicial speed dating. Cops and other law enforcement people come in, present their testimony or expert point of view and they leave. So far to a man (yes, it's been all men) the witnesses are brusque, plain spoken and emphatic.

During my mornings, before I head down to the court house, I encounter just about the opposite. I find myself in meeting after meeting where we often talk about road-maps and game plans and things I can't understand. There is no precision of language and, I suspect, little that is articulated that exists without some agenda.

In fact there is little talk about what we do and how we'll do it and a lot of talk about what we may consider doing sometime in the future or might want to research doing or even talk about researching doing.

This is probably wrong and perhaps someone will correct me.

Somewhere along the way advertising has moved from a craft to a profession. Craft industries make things, they do things. Professions talk.

Wither Twitter?

Adweek reports this morning that a mere 8% of the US population uses one of our latest "this will change everything"-technologies, Twitter.

The same study that reported this 8% statistic had reported in September that 24% of Americans used Twitter or services like Twitter.

My point here is simple and is really not about Twitter at all.

It's about the tyranny of those who but too much stake in the latest transformational technology, who buy statistics, and who believe that new technologies can change the fundamental neural capacities of humans in a year, whereas even the most vociferous evolutionist would say that fundamental human changes take something like 10,000 years.

If Twitter were really to change our brains, how we take in and send out information, we should be looking forward to a generation of humans born with enlarged thumbs.

Change does not happen that fast.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Random career thoughts.

I've been asked by an advertising school--or a school that helps "engineer pop culture" (if that's not an oxymoron) to teach a class either on putting together an advertising portfolio or on how to network efficiently. I'm not sure if I'll have the time to teach either of the course, but this morning I started thinking about this blog and how I network.

I started this blog at the behest and encouragement of my friend, partner and soul-mate Tore Claesson ( was out of work at the time, having left a big job and a big salary because the senior level people who hired me turned out to be a bunch of--dare I say it in print?--consultants? (Excuse me while I wash my hands.)

The blog was just a way for me to put my thoughts down every day. Intuitively Tore knew that I would spiritually die if I didn't write. So he bid me to write. Since Tore told me to blog, I've written nearly 2,000 entries. Some of them have sucked. Some of them are trivial. Some are more, I think, intelligent and heartfelt.

I am not a self-promoter by nature. I don't mix well. I am, in fact, a fairly virulent misanthrope. But after a while my blog led me to others'--Bob Hoffman's ( and Dave Trott's ( time, I got to know these fellas. In person or via email and I count them as people whose work I admire and maybe even as friends.

A headhunter of mine, another e connection, taught me how to use Linked In and Facebook to positive networking effect. That those two media vehicles are how recruiters and agency people search for candidates, so make yourself pretty and easy to find.

The thing about work, about finding work, about furthering yourself, is that it's work. It's work that is on-going--it never stops. Because it's your career and it's your future and it's your life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Watching television.

Turner Classic Movies, TCM, is running a seven-part series called "Moguls and Movies," a history of the movie industry. Last night, they ran a episode on the encroachment by television in the 1950s on the movie industry's near monopoly as mass entertainment entity. "Movies are dead" was the near universal cry.

Today, 60 years or so later, people have been chiming similar death knells for television. "People no longer watch," the online luddites have claimed. "Everything is zapped and DVR'd" others trumpet.

Today "The New York Times" reported that TV, according to Steve King, chief executive at the ZenithOptimedia media division of the Publicis Groupe "is, by his estimates, still gaining share of the overall advertising market, he added, to 40.7 percent in 2010, from 37 percent in 2005." This is not the last breath, in other words, of a dying media.

My points in all this are simple.

1. Get your facts before you make a proclamation.
2. Things don't die that easily.
3. Never trust anyone who issues grand proclamations.
4. People like TV--they even like commercials when they're well-wrought.
5. Tweets, Facebook "likes" and 300x250 pixel banners don't build brands.
6. I've still yet to have a conversation about a brand.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jury duty.

I'm on jury duty for the next month unless I get released. There's a decent chance my prodigious output will slacken. I will do my best but I make no promises other than that I will do my best.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Grinning is winning.

I've written about this before but I flew into LA yesterday and was assaulted by billboards of happy people and smiling faces and I need to write about it again.

The billboards featured people smiling about the product they were offering. Traffic was slow so I really had time to notice them. I even tried to smile the way the people in the billboards were smiling. And I couldn't. I couldn't get my mouth to cooperate and my teeth to gleam. I certainly couldn't talk while smiling like that.

There are a lot of social-justice issues facing America today. Resurgent racism, sexism, ageism and more isms.

I think the worst is grin-ism. We are all supposed to be so damn happy all the time. That makes me sad.

You could learn a lot from my younger daughter.

My younger daughter is a freshman at an idyllic consortium of colleges about an hour east of LA. There, she has awakened to the wonders of pure intellectual pursuit. Specifically, she has fallen in love with John Milton (1608–1674) and his epic "Paradise Lost."

Her class decided to host a "Milton Marathon," in which they would read Paradise Lost aloud in its entirety. The subject line of my daughter's email to her entire college was "Are you into Epic shit?!" Her explanation for that assault was simple. "Kids get so many emails, you have to find a way to stand out."

So last night, by the light of the moon and an iPhone flashlight app, she and her friends read of Satan, battles between the fallen and the unfallen, heaven, hell, despair and cruel depravity.

It was heaven.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What if?

I'm 37,000 feet up in the air and I was having a digital conversation with a Linked In acquaintance who became a Facebook friend and who now seems on the verge of becoming a real friend.

What we were talking about was the failure of the Web as an advertising medium. The "10 Best" online campaigns recently selected by The One Club didn't have one piece of work that actually built a brand. Not one.

The brands in question were built on print and TV. Period.

What occurred to me while my new-found friend and I were chatting was this: the web has been called a designer's media. Design and interaction design drives it. Writers for the web often seem as important as tailors in a nudist colony.

What if we've been doing it all wrong?

What if we tried doing work that understands that words can have impact? Meaning. Power. Importance.

Statements can make a statement.

Messages can be the message.

Substance can be substantial.

Function can follow function.

Many of us are complicit in propagating well-designed sameness (if it looks like everything else, is it well-designed?) and that, simply and plainly, hasn't worked.

Maybe it's time to try something different.

A dispatch.

A writer friend writes:

"George, thanks for your note. Glad to hear things are well with the girls. Let me tell you what's going on with me:

"Yesterday I was locked in a room with clients. There were 20 of them and one of me. They said I was there to help them figure their positioning. I said, 'you're a Fortune 200 company. That's your position.' They laughed--nervously--and said, really, we have to figure out our positioning.

"They read off the positioning statements they had for their brand and their three sub brands. I said, 'you've basically used the same 100 words everyone else uses and mixed them up slightly differently.' 'That's why we need your help,' they said.

"The hours went by. I proffered freshly thought out language. Unexpected words that still described who they are. They regressed to the mean and rejected everything I had to say. I couldn't take much more so I offered to go off and write three versions for their review.

"It was the only way I could get out of there.

"The only good news was I was able to catch an earlier flight home."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reality vs. approximate reality.

Last night, as I so often do, I stumbled upon a quotation in a book I'm reading that made me think.

John Breit was a physicist who went to work for Merrill-Lynch as a Risk Manager before that firm's unregulated financial shenanigans and hubris brought it to collapse. "By the standards of a physicist, Wall Street was quantitatively illiterate. Executives learned "Standard Deviation" and "normal distribution," but they didn't really understand the math, so they got lulled into thinking it was magic. Traders came to believe that the formulas were not an approximation of reality but reality itself."

Maybe those sentences hit me hard because in advertising we do much the same thing.
We listen to 16 people being paid for their opinions in Cincinnati and we think they are reality. We see that the cool kids in Williamsburg are reality. We treat award shows and ad critics like they are reality.

Along the way to approximate reality we've forgotten life.

Anyway, here's Big Daddy's soliloquy in Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

"Heroes in the real world... hours a day,
not just two hours in a game.

Mendacity! You won't...

You won't live with mendacity,
but you're an expert at it.

The truth is pain and sweat...

...paying bills and making love to a woman
that you don't love anymore.

The truth is dreams that don't come true...

...and nobody prints your name
in the paper till you die."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wasted motion.

For the past couple of weeks or so, the DiSano Brothers have been "deconstructing" the parking lot, a ramp and a small building across the street from where I work. Basically I've been able to watch the remarkable crane-eal dexterity of the man who's operating the Deere shown above as he destroys the aforementioned structures and then sorts and places the detritus in the appropriate containers, efficient like a laundress sorting wash.

What I've observed these past weeks is that the backhoe guy barely wastes a movement. Things go from point A to point B with nary a glitch, a miasma or an unnecessary discussion.

How I envy him.


"George," my therapist rails, "you're too Old Testament. Too inclined to see things in terms of absolute good and absolute evil. You have to soften. You have to look for the shades of grey."

What set me off this morning was an article in "The New York Times" about two prominent doctors who said they wrote a book that was in reality written by a drug company.

Oh, I'll let it go.

I'll not use this as a metaphor for more macro corruptions in our world or more micro ones in our industry.

I'll let it go.

A. E. Housman (1859–1936). A Shropshire Lad. 1896.

LXII. Terence, this is stupid stuff

‘TERENCE, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, ’tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.’

Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I’ve lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
’Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
—I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

Monday, November 29, 2010

More reflections and a bit of a rant.

I'm reading right now "And All the Devils Are Here," a book on the collapse of the American (and world) financial system by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera. One of the small bits of chicanery that led to the latest destruction of our world was perpetrated by ratings agencies like Standard & Poors and Moodys.

In early, more honest times, ratings were based on scrupulous analysis. During the crisis triple A ratings--the safest of the safe--went essentially for sale. If you could pay for it, you were bestowed it. After all, the ratings agencies were public companies. They couldn't afford to turn away the customers who would be turned off if they remained stringent while their competitors kowtowed to the big money boys.

It occurs to me, as I look at the output of the "advertising awards industrial complex" that much the same is happening in the advertising world.

Ads and agencies are heralded for work that may or may not be real, and that may or may not have built clients' businesses or driven sales.

The awards shows, our industry's equivalent of Moody's, bestows honors on agencies that pay huge fees. The veracity of what they are judging is someone else's department.

So we call work solipsistically created to win awards award-winning, our criterion for judging is only that it looks award-winning.

We expend our energy running around in ever-tighter circles applauding ourselves while there's real work to be done.


Advertising in Cuneiform.

There is a body of people--they are everywhere--who proudly and loudly and constantly proclaim "this will change everything. This will mean the death of all that has gone before it. This new technology is so advanced, it will supplant all previous technologies and change the very functioning of the human brain in the process."

Just yesterday Adweek proclaimed that William Morris Endeavor's Ari Emmanuel has a new way of marketing that will kill ad agencies. If you're listening closely enough, you'll hear a couple of these proclamations a week.

Yesterday, I went to an exhibit at The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, part of New York University, that displayed 13 clay tablets from ancient Mesoptomania. These tablets are the work of students who were deciphering the wonders of Sumerian mathematics and using, some think, the Pythagorean Theorem some 1,300 years before Pythagoras did. Written in Cuneiform the tablets show calculations on a host of practical problems, like like calculating the width of a canal, given information about its other dimensions, the cost of digging it and a worker’s daily wage.

It occurred to me while viewing this small exhibit of just 13 tablets from about 3,700 to 3,900 years ago, that the Babylonians scratching on them probably reckoned that their work would change everything. That they had reached the apotheosis of all things and had rendered all else obsolete.

And this from a people who used the number 60 as the base of their numbering system.

The Babylonians were futzing with pi and square roots about 2,000 years before Christ.
That leads me to think that there just may be some essential human and physical truths that time cannot monkey with, some ideas, reactions and ways of assimilating and disseminating information that may be hard-wired into our common humanity. Things that just won't change.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Some numbers.

Of course, radio advertising is dead.
Of course, newspapers, and newspaper advertising are dead.
Of course, magazines and magazine advertising are dead.

Well, together, those "dead" media account for more ad spending--$135 billion, to internet and mobile's $66.2 billion.

TV, the deadest of all media, has 250% of the ad sales of the internet and mobile.
$156 billion was spent last year.

Listen, my point here is simple.

The bombast of the death-knell ringers should not over-shadow the facts.

The proper way to reach consumers is through a variety of different channels.

A new model won't do it.

Spurious claims of "engagement" won't do it.

An app, or a game, or a "viral" video won't do it.

One thing works.

Hard work.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Proof women don't get it.

Some blonde, a Victoria's Secret model, is gushing on CBS, announcing the Macy's parade. My wife comments "She actually has a bad nose."
Me: "I don't think anyone notices her nose."

A new word.

I just heard an interview on NPR's "Morning Edition" of Steven Levitan, who is the co-creator and executive producer of an ABC television show called "Modern Family." In the interview, Levitan used the made-up word "fun-miliar" for a "sweet moment that has been overdone."

It seems to me that about 97% of the faux warmth we see in commercials on TV fit that description.

It's Thanksgiving. I am pickling eels for our traditional eel dinner. I gotta go.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's all the same to me.

There's no shortage of articles and blog posts and snarky comments about the sameness of modern advertising. But it occurs to me that you seldom read an article about the sameness of the products our clients make and sell.

I just read an article in Ad Age about a "fast-fooder" called Steak 'n Shake and their hunt for a new agency. As usual in the comments section after the article there are a couple of anonymous voices decrying the work of Steak 'n Shake's former agency.

Well, from cars, to batteries, to fast-fooders, to banks, to airlines, to politicians, to agencies themselves, what does anyone do differently? Everyone is a parity product. So of course advertising becomes parity as well.

Despite what cynics say, and so many believe, our job in the industry is to present useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way.

It would help if our clients invested more in boldness and differentiation rather than relying on some small creative fillip to make them interesting.

No matter how much lipstick you can slather on a pig, you wouldn't want to kiss it.

Best wishes from a truck.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The walls have ears. In Italy, they also have breasts.

From "the paper of record."

Sub-Prime Advertising.

There's a new book out that is getting a lot of deserved attention titled "All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis." It's by Bethany McLean (co-author of "The Smartest Guys in the Room) and Joe Nocera, business columnist for "The New York Times." You can read a "Times'" review of it here:

I just started the book last evening so I'm only 30 pages in. But already I get the point. Too many Americans--encouraged by shysters, charlatans, and fast-talkers--thought they could get something for nothing. The financial system counted on an endless supply of these dopes and bet on them. When their accounts were called, the results of having no "there there" led to the collapse we are still attempting (everso lightly) to recover from.

The above, in a nutshell, is the story of subprime mortgages. The unprincipled selling to the unqualified to gain the unconscionable.

It occurs to me that much the same (admittedly on a much smaller scale) is happening in our industry.

Call it sub-prime advertising.

The unprincipled--purveyors of as yet unproven new media are selling to the unqualified--clients who ought to have the intelligence to know better but don't--to gain the unconscionable, that is customers or prospects for pennies per.

I'm online more than 99% of the American population. I've never had a conversation about a brand, never noticed a Facebook ad, never been influenced by a Tweet or a Yelp or a poke, can't recall a single ad I've ever seen on You Tube and I don't think I've ever been reached by a piece of syndicated content.

Further, I've never gone on a product site (I don't check out Bounty's online presence when I need new paper towels.) I don't really care about the camera my friends tell me to buy.

Sub-prime advertising, like sub-prime mortgages, are a concoction, a charade, a manipulation, an alchemy that promises to turn base-metal into gold.

Even Isaac Newton failed at doing that.

No one believes in advertising anymore.

There's a myopia running around that is nearly as virulent as small pox was in 1918 or the plague was in the 1300s. It's the notion that now, today, lately, no one believes in advertising.

I'm not debating whether or not this statement is true. What I am debating is the notion that no one believes in advertising is a new one.

It seems to me that Generation End of Alphabet has this misguided view of the world before them. That they somehow conceive people of my generation, or my parents', or my parents' parents' generation were without cynicism and doubt when it came to advertising. They were fools, don'tcha see, who couldn't see through the blandishments and come ons of Madison Avenue.

All they had to see on TV was a little hammer knocking inside someone's head and they imagined they themselves had a headache and they went out and bought Anacin or some such. We were dumb, docile and dupable. All you had to do was tell us to buy something and we bought it.

The fact of the matter is, people have always been skeptical about advertising. Certainly when I grew up in the 60s and 70s, we were probably more questioning than today's generations. When Vietnam was raging, we heard government death statistics on the radio every evening--statistics that tried to tell us the US was winning the war. We knew those were lies. We weren't stupid.

If anything, I'd say that today's generations are more susceptible to advertising than previous generations. For instance, they seldom go anywhere without being festooned by logos, mini advertisements for brands they support.

I know of no evidence whatsoever that today's consumer is any more or any less resistant to advertising than any previous generation of consumers. What's different is there is now a generation of know-it-alls who seem to take particular delight in telling the world that they are smarter and better than every previous generation. (This is the same generation that wears wool hats when it's 80 degrees out, spends $7 for a cup of slave-labor coffee and sports flip flops in the city filth in the rain.)

It's so much blather. Another chapter to file under the heading "This Will Change Everything."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New York Saturday.

A friend of mine, a long-time advertising friend, has just moved back to New York from London for a big job at a big New York agency.

She called me yesterday to ask if I had an electric drill. She needed help installing some things in her new apartment.

I ran down there this afternoon.

I have to say, there's nothing like walking around New York with a power drill and a bit kit. It made me feel like a safe cracker.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One of those old time New York cabdrivers.

I jumped into a taxi tonight, a hybrid Toyota Prius, at the corner of 40th and 8th. I was lucky enough to get a real New York cabdriver. A 60-year old with a hack license number in the 200-thousands. (All hack licenses are numbered sequentially. A new driver today will usually have a number in the 500-thousands.)

He started talking to me when a lady with five little kids walked off the curb against the light.

"New York today," he spewed.

By the time we got to Broadway (which the mayor has made a pedestrian mall in midtown, complete with chairs and little tables) he was really roiled.

"Whaddaya think of this?" he demanded. "Whaddah they tryin' to do, drive all the cabbies outta town?"

"I've been here my whole life," I interjected.

"How old are you?" he one upped me. "I'm 60 and was born and lived here my whole life."

By now we had made it crosstown, beat a yellow light on 40th and First and were streaming up through the First Avenue tunnel near the UN.

"Remember Nedick's?" he asked. "Orange Julius? The big Howard Johnson's at 59th and Lex? I'd go in there and ask for a 'Broadway.' Do you know what a 'Broadway' is?"

"No," I admitted.

"A chocolate soda with coffee ice cream. They'd put a big hunk of coffee ice cream in. Now some places'd give you a coffee soda with chocolate ice cream. But that's not a Broadway.

"The only place left is Papaya King up on 86th. And they just re-did the place," he lamented.

"One time, I played stickball with Joe Pepitone and Phil Linz." Two ex-Yankees.

"Linz couldn't hit much," I answered.

"It was like ballet with him. Nothing got by him. I never saw a man with more grace. He hit our ball on the roof. It had to be 100 feet high! We surrounded him. 'Phil, the rules say, if y' hit one on the roof, you gotta go up there and get it.' Nobody locked their doors in those days. He reached for a quarter so fast! He flipped it to me and I ran down the street and gotta new ball. We really lucked out. 'Cause we still had the old ball.'

We were nearing my house.

"I ran into him at the bar he owned, Flick, and I told him the story. He said it was Pepitone. And I said, no, I was twelve. I know it was you."

We pulled up to my corner. I gave him his fare and a $10 tip.

It was worth every penny.

Meg Whitman, Facebook and flirting.

I've just come across two "data-points" as account people like to call them, those things in a simpler era we used to call facts.

The first is from a report from the "Pew Internet and American Life Project." It finds that at least one in five adults uses Facebook for flirting. (My guess is that the real number is 1 in 1, but who's going to admit to public flirting?)

The second is from an article in "The New York Times." It claims that Meg Whitman spent $141 million to lose the California governor's race--more than any person has ever spent on a single political race in US history.

Odd as it may seem, I believe these facts are linked.

As the efficacy of traditional marketing efforts has decreased, marketers are turning to "social media" sites like Facebook to pick up the slack. And what you've got on Facebook are scads of people who really aren't interested in much more than flirting.

The short answer is this.

There is no magic way to get people to like your brand. If you're stiff and unlikeable $141 million of TV won't do it. If you go on Facebook--because it's inexpensive and the home of a billion-eye ball-members--you likely wind up just interfering with flirting.

If you want people to like, try, use, recommend your brand, be likeable, be tryable, be usable, be recommendable.

Then your marketing dollars will work.

Truth and Light.

Yesterday Thomas Friedman in "The New York Times" wrote an excellent op-ed, "Too Good to Check" about the reaction-propagated canard that Obama's trip to Asia cost $200-million/day and involved 34 naval ships. Friedman talks about how these "stories" start and how they get spread.

Later on I heard John Boehner assert that "America has the best healthcare system in the world" as if aphorisms made things true.

Everyday in advertising we hear our versions of these canards. "We must be on Facebook." "People don't believe in advertising." "No one reads anymore.""No one watches TV."

The speed as which these unchecked "facts" spread is rapid. Friedman quotes Mark Twain who said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Not much more I can say here. Except this.

I grew up in an era where we weren't supposed to trust anyone over 30. Now, it's best not to trust anyone. Question everything.

As I wrote almost back in September 19, 2007:

In "The Captive Mind", Czeslaw Milosz's memoir/essay/study about artists and intellectuals living under Communism in the early 1950s, he attributed the epigram below to an ancient Jew from Galacia. Makes sense doesn't it?

"When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Uncle Slappy up for Thanksgiving.

My Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie are up from Boca for Thanksgiving, staying in our spare bedroom. Here was the conversation we had last night as Uncle Slappy was updating his Facebook page.

SLAPPY: Hey, Mr. Big Schott.
Your business, how is it going.

ME: You know how it goes, Uncle Slappy.

SLAPPY: You keep trying to idiot-proof your work...

ME: That's right, Slap.

SLAPPY: They keep making better idiots.

With that Uncle Slappy went to his room to watch the Knicks lose again.

The early years.

When I was 21, I graduated from college without really having any clue as to what I wanted to do with the next 60 years of my life.

Though I had no interest in it whatsoever, I found myself that Fall at the Dental School at Columbia University in the City of New York. I figured though I wasn't dying to be a dentist, it's good, steady work that pays fairly well. Further, dentists rarely work late, so I reckoned I could earn a good living and still have time leftover to pursue my true interests: to write my novel, to play basketball in the park with my friends and to take my long and solitary walks in and around New York.

Dental school was tough. I was never particularly adept at biology and my skills in chemistry ran to the more theoretical than experimental. Nevertheless, though I constantly mixed up incisors and bicuspids, I graduated from dental school--a newly minted dentist--in late Spring on 1983.

Suffice it to say, I quickly found that practicing dentistry wasn't for me. One patient of mine--he was the Executive Creative Director at Lowe and also needed a lot of dental work, took a liking to me. Without me even having to put a book together he offered me a junior copywriter job. I resisted for a while, but eventually hung up my drill and took the position.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Smile when you say that.

There are athletes, I've known a few of them, who do what I call the anti-psych. Before a big race or a big game, they warm up and proclaim, "oh, my shoulder is sore." "I haven't got it today." "My legs feel heavy." Or some such. And then they go out and mop the floor with their competition or they turn in a personal best.

There is an extremely annoying trend in the world that says "we must be smiling and happy or it will be bad for morale and no good work will get done." In fact, someone initialed HG just commented on one of my previous posts thusly: "Such a negative vibe. Guys you get paid to be creative. Stop the hitching. Find joy in what u do."

This is of course extreme and unvarnished bushwa of the highest (or lowest) order (or odor.) Some times creativity comes from anxiety, or anger, or hatred. It doesn't come, some times, from sugar and spice and everything nice.

Some people are ornery cusses. Some people aren't people people. Some people just want to be left alone.

If I were to give voice to my paranoid side I'd say there is a conspiracy of hr-ophiles who support diversity and inclusion in everything but mood and temperament.

I am not and never will be the happy-go-lucky sort. That doesn't mean I can't do what is asked of me. My deeds and my performance inspire. Leave the smile to cheerleaders.

I'm paid to write ads. Not tiptoe through the fucking tulips.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beware of Fog.

Beware when you see words like: "evolutionary change." They usually mean you work with and for the timid.

Beware when you see phrases like 1.0, 2.0, beta. They usually mean you work with people who can't make a decision.

Beware when you hear words like "research shows." They are usually the province of people who will use any available scrap of data (real or purported) to undo what needs to be done.

Beware when you read someone's done a "shit load of work in a little time." It usually means there was a lot of wasted effort before a direction was found.

Beware of people who talk of "branding." It usually means they want the logo bigger.

Beware when people talk of "rebranding." It usually means they want the logo bigger and what to charge $1 million for it.

Beware when people talk about marketing as an "experience." It usually means they are well-spoken charlatans.

Your nose. Is it clean?

There's an article in this week's "Adweek" about the difficulty some major agencies are having in filling Chief Creative Officer positions. The article starts this way, "To succeed as a chief creative officer these days you have to be a double threat: possess great traditional media chops and be deeply versed in digital. But guess what? That ambidextrous talent pool is tiny, if it even exists at all at that senior level." You can read the entire thing here:

It seems to me that the trouble agencies have in filling the CCO role doesn't come merely because they are looking for "double threats" but because they are looking for "triple threats." My guess is they are seeking a versatile "ambidextrous" creative, yes, but they are also looking for someone who is squeaky clean. Someone who hasn't pissed someone off along the way. Someone who gets along and is unoffensive.

Now, I'll admit I have no proof behind this allegation other than having worked for holding companies my whole life and being an observer of their ways.

You move up in agencies these days not based on work but on your ability to chart a middle course. Don't fight too much. Don't be loud. Let it go. OK?

I'm probably wrong in this. I'm probably pissing someone off. I probably should have kept this to myself. Or posted it anonymously.

But I didn't.

And I'm no CCO.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My father and the boat.

There’s a picture of me as a little boy that has survived all of the to-ing and fro-ing of my family’s life, all of the packing, all of the moving, all of the shifting, all of the plenty and need-for-newness and disposability of mid-20th Century America.

In the picture I am about four. I wear a sailor’s cap, white with my name embroidered on it in gold script. I am standing in our small backyard in front of a small wooden rowboat that my father had bought for $10 from a place on the Long Island Sound that had had that rowboat in its rental fleet.

The paint on the boat was flaking, coming off in large chips and white. Its trim was likewise flaking and red. They were paint chips that would today have the EPA after you. But I suppose in its day, the little rowboat, powered by a 1½- or 3-horsepower engine or two heavy wooden oars, looked jaunty and rentable. Something the Italians who lived near the Sound could take out by the hour, the half-day or a day and catch mossbunkers, sea bass, mackerels and blues. Fish they would cook for their families.

Now, of course, the boat was a thing of the past. Damaged by time and tide. With the bottom rotted out. Unseaworthy.

My father’s intent was to fill the boat up with sand. It would be our sandbox, my brother and mine. But until my father went to the hardware store to buy six or seven 50-lb. bags, the boat was presented to us as a place of adventure and swashbuckling. My father would sit on the gunwales as my brother and I scurried over the hull like hermit crabs.

Without the white sand from some distant and faraway shore, he saw the structure as a place where pirates fought and died, where whales were harpooned. A place where we could sight U-Boats and sink same. A place where we were the skipper or captain, where we took no prisoners and better men than we were keel-hauled or made to walk our plywood plank.

The front of the boat—I guess calling it the bow or prow would be most accurate, came to a sharp point. There was a small storage area there, closed off by a door. To me and my brother, this was a cabin, and the boat our cabin cruiser, riding the waves with bright white smiles, coca-cola and laughter. The front area had enough space for a few life-preserves, coils of rope or an anchor. In a pinch, if we were playing hide and seek or just goofing around, one of us—not both, could squeeze in and shut the door behind us most of the way. This became our secret place. A place where we could scarcely be found if we needed to be lost.

My brother and I spent a million daylight hours in our boat, knocking nails in it when we felt like hammering, painting it with our tiny water-color kits when we felt like painting, sanding it when as we dreamed of making it spiffy and sea-worthy. On occasion, in the evening, when my father made it home from the City when it was still light out, he would come out to the boat and drink his drink while he watched us play.

One such evening my brother was chasing me or I was chasing my brother over and around our boat, our bare feet scampering over the wooden planking. My brother stopped short trying to make a turn and fell to the bottom of the boat screaming. Blood was pouring from the bottom of his foot. A two or three inch splinter had broken off the old boat and had wedged inside his foot. My father lifted him off the ground and ran along with me to his Studebaker. He drove to the Cross County Hospital, a blue-brick low-rise in one of America’s first shopping malls. It was the hospital I was born in and next to a restaurant called Adventurer’s Grille that served hamburgers. There, the emergency room doctor removed the serrated splinter and cleaned and bandaged the wound. He made my brother, in the words of my father, “good as new.”

In my father’s car driving back home, my six or seven-year old brother hurt my father worse even than the splinter had wounded him. “Why can’t we have a sandbox that’s just a sandbox?” he asked.

My father silently guided his Studebaker home. He parked the car and sent us into the dark, little house. He went right to the backyard and set to work.

He rocked the boat back and forth against the turf it had settled into to wedge it out of its resting place. He then pivoted the boat around and first dragged, then pushed the boat to the curb, it's keel abrading a shallow trench in the sod. The next morning the garbage men wrestled it into the back of their truck and hydrauliced the boat to smithereens.

We never did get another sandbox. Or another boat.

Here's how it happened.

It's fairly obvious, at least to people of my generation, that "rust never sleeps." That is, the inevitabilities of entropy have pretty much destroyed all that we used to hold dear.

Oh yeah. This is a little dark for a Friday, ain't it. Lemme start over again.

Somewhere along the way, I think it was USA Today that kicked it off, some bright boy said, "TV is picking up viewership while print readership is dropping. The way to amend that is to make print more like TV."

So rather than examine what made or makes print strong, they threw all that out. Newspapers became filled with soundbites of information, gossip, celebrititis, crap. Newspapers became more like TV, and in turn, TV became more like gossip magazines--which were picking up readers at a spectacular rate since the advent of rags like "Us" and "People."

I know this is complex, so maybe this example will clarify. Let's think about movie theatres. At one time they were elegant escapes from the everyday. A program included the feature, a short and maybe a few cartoons. The silver screen was vast and transportive.

Then movies started losing out to TV. What did theatres and studios do to fight this? They shortened programs. They smallerized their screens. They made their offering more like that which was killing them rather than strengthening what they alone could do.

A couple of nights ago I saw Donezetti's "Don Pasquale" at The Met. In the program was the above ad for BMW. It made my skin crawl.

For more than two decades BMW, by way of Ammirati & Puris (in the US) did work that redefined what an automobile should be. And made BMW the gold standard. Their ads were thoughtful, intelligent and motivating conversations about what's important in a car.

Now the brand and their just canned agency GSDM have decided that print can no longer fulfill that role. It must feel more "sound-bitey" like television. Or maybe print should feel like a tweet.

Rather than thinking about what a medium can do well, what particular strength can be brought to bear via that medium, advertising agencies and clients have sought instead to emulate media that seem to be winning.

This is like the British army attacking by sea because the British navy is successful. It just won't work.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jack Levine, 1915-2010.

Yesterday I read an obituary in "The New York Times" that made me think of advertising. The obituary was of an artist I never heard of, though probably should have, named Jack Levine.

Levine was "an unrepentant and much-admired realist artist who skewered plutocrats, crooked politicians and human folly...He specialized in satiric tableaus and sharp social commentary directed at big business, political corruption, militarism and racism, with something left over for the comic spectacle of the human race on parade."

Speaking of advertising, or as it should perhaps be more appropriately called "fadvertising," Levine railed against "abstract painters," calling them space cadets. His iconoclastic stance relegated him to the fringes of the art world.

“I am alienated from all of these movements,” Mr. Levine said. “They offer me nothing. I think of myself as a dramatist. I look for a dramatic situation, which may or may not reflect some current political social response.”

According to "The Times," "the onward march of abstraction and avant-gardism relegated him to the margins."

In Levine's own words, “I made quite a splash in the art world in the 1930s, and it seems to me that every year since I have become less and less well known."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pamela Harriman and good writing.

Pamela Harriman was married to Winston Churchill's son Randolph. She was frequently cited as "the 20th Century's greatest courtesan." She had affairs with Averell Harriman, who would much later become her third husband; Edward R. Murrow, John Hay "Jock" Whitney, Prince Aly Khan, Alfonso de Portago, Gianni Agnelli, and Baron Elie de Rothschild.

Here's the part I like. And why I won't give up believing words matter: "she was unkindly described as having become 'a world expert on rich men's bedroom ceilings'."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Semantically weird.

Down by the River. Again.

Last night, late, long after I usually go to bed, I was restless and wrestling with a decision I need to make. So I did what I frequently do. I put on a comfortable pair of shoes, snapped the leash on my dog and headed down to the river where thoughts run as steadily as the waters.

The river is a musical score. A symphony of rises and falls. Of soaring passages and lulls. Of adagio and allegro. If you know how to see it and hear it, the river speaks like Lester Young's saxophone or Miles Davis' trumpet.

The river started slow and simple last night. It was quiet and whispering. It didn't have much to say. It was like the silence in a Terrence Malick movie. Then as I walked further uptown, I reached Hell Gate, my destination. Hell Gate. The narrow strait, the confluence of flows where waters churn and boil regardless of time and tide.

I stopped there pondering my own private Hell Gate. I leaned on the wrought iron and looked out on the waters boiling and roiling. I spit and saw it disappear. After some minutes an older Puerto Rican man--another denizen of the waters, stood and leaned beside me.

"Jew ho kay, man?" He touched me gently on my shoulder.

I examined him vigilantly. Was he here to mug me? Was he a pervert? Could I take him? When he checked out ok, I answered.

"Just thinking. I think best here."

He offered me a cigarette and a swig from his pint. He lit his smoke expertly against the wind, cupping the match so I could see his face like a Hollywood close-up. He had kind eyes that were deep like the water. He took a quick gulp from the bottle. Hennessy.

I explained myself, my night-time pensiveness.

"Look," he said to me, his heavy accent gone. "Regardless of what it is, it comes down to two vectors." He was sounding like my therapist now. "You deserve to do what you want to do. You deserve to do something for yourself."

"Yeah, but..."

He cut me off like a conquistador with a machete.

"It comes down to two things. You pay now or you pay later. And it's money or life."

He pushed back from the fence and left me alone with my dog staring at the white water.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Butt butt butt.

I'll admit, open as I am, I got a call tonight from a head-hunter. They find you, these head-hunters do. Especially when you work at a hot place (which I do) and when you've worked at hot places (which I have.)

This particular head-hunter was from off the beaten track, head-hunter-wise. Not one of the ones you've heard of. One of those big, corporate ones who don't usually deal with creative types. I could tell that right away. But I'm polite. I decide to hear the fella out.

Until, that is, he is obviously reading from my "linked-in" profile and is asking me to describe each job I've had over the past ten years.

I quickly got off the phone when he called Hal Riney "Hal Heinie."

Banana ad agencies.

Yesterday Nicholas Kristof had a nasty op-ed in "The New York Times" called "Our Banana Republic." For those of you who think a Banana Republic is an over-priced clothing store that vends preppy clothes made by slave laborers in South East Asia, Kristof is instead referring to societies with vast disparities in wealth.

Here's some data for you--visualized the old-fashioned way, with type. The richest 1% of American society eats 24% of the American pie, up from just 9% in 1976 (when we had progressive taxation.) In 1980 C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker. In 2001, they earn an average as 531 as much. (If the average agency salary is $50K, that would put a CEO at $26 million.) And from 1980 to 2005 more than 80% of the total increases in American incomes when to the richest 1% of Americans.

Of course this inequality is not sustaining.

But let's think about ad agencies for a moment, where holding company chieftains make tens of millions. Where rank and file workers are salary frozen and hung out to dry during periodic RIFs. (Reductions in Force.)

No real point in this other than a reminder to keep your head down and keep working.

Friday, November 5, 2010

ee cummings haiku.

maybe ee was
just too tired to press the
shift key. low iron?


There's a bit of a hubbub in the ad industry because the vaunted Nielsen organization has undercounted time spent online by 22%. They blame this error on a "computer glitch."

I think the real errors from data come not from computer glitches but from MBA itches.

These days, we test everything. Data proliferates like rabbits mainlining Viagra. We issue decks, reports, studies and white-papers. We reach conclusions. We proclaim proclamations.

In so doing, we mostly prove whatever we want proved. We've got reams of data to back it up.

The fact of the matter is 99% of statistics lie and 99% of all data exists solely to create jobs for people to create, analyze and act upon that data.

As it says in "Proverbs,"
"Wisdom is the principal thing;/therefore get wisdom:/and with all thy getting get understanding."

I'm not for a moment saying data is useless.
But it is useless when it becomes a) an end in itself or b) an excuse to do nothing.

A dicta.

Yesterday, a doe-eyed project manager came to me asking me to anticipate the number of hours a project would take. She showed me the spread sheet she had created which had 2X hours for writing the piece and 1X hours for revisions.

"Oh," I said, "your ratios are all wrong. These days it's 1X for writing and 4X for revisions."

Since that conversation I have been plumbing the depths of my memory, trying to discern if it were ever thus. If the amount of time to "tweak" the work was always the amount of time needed to create the work.

However, I think what's more important than my memory is this simple dicta. The more layers, the worse the work.

Of course substantive errors must be corrected. Of course there are client exigencies that need to be considered. Of course the CMO's nephew hates the word parsnip. Of course no one knows that "app" is accepted shorthand for application. Of course we need to mention our office in Turkey.

Most every client in the world complains about advertising agency fees. There's a simple way to remedy that. Remember: The more layers, the worse the work. And the more costly.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The genius of stupidity.

One of the prominent features of Facebook is that it makes things devastatingly simple. It's easy to keep in touch with "friends." It's easy to be "friends." It's easy to make "friends." It's easy to have "friends."

It's also easy, of course, to express yourself. And why bother with hierarchy and order? That's too complicated, nuanced and "elitist." Simply divide the world into two: Those things you like and everything else.

So I like:
Anti-Leprosy efforts.
Over-priced coffee.
American Idol.
Saving Darfur.
Witches in politics.
Jenn Cook's photos.
Puerto Vallarta.
Air Safety.

Orwell, that prescient seer, warned us what would happen when the Thought Police and their accoutrement were successful at limiting the number of words people use. Words are symbolic representations of thought. Our thoughts have become simplified to the point of banality.

As Christopher Hedges wrote in "Empire of Illusion," Our world is being divided in two. "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."

I like that. And Skittles.