Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday haiku.

Come Sunday, fourish,
I wish someone invented,
Weekend savings time.

Courtesy of Bob and Ray.

Some advertising slogans by the great comedians.

* The Monongahela Metal Foundry ("Casting steel ingots with the housewife in mind")
* Einbinder Flypaper ("The brand you've gradually grown to trust over the course of three generations")
* The United States Post Office ("Makers and distributors of stamps")
* The Croftweiler Industrial Cartel ("Makers of all sorts of stuff, made out of everything")
* Cool Canadian Air ("Packed fresh every day in the Hudson Bay and shipped to your door")
* Grime ("The magic shortening that spreads like lard")
* The United States Mint ("One of the nation's leading producers of genuine U.S. currency")
* Fanucchi ("With or without nuts, the greatest name in fudge")
* Kretchford Braid and Tassel ("Next time you think of braid or tassel, rush into your neighborhood store and shout, 'Kretchford'!")

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Another reason I am thankful for advertising.

I have two lamps on either side of my bed that needed rewiring. It took me an hour and 33 minutes to do a job that would probably take someone with skills 20 minutes.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Not long ago I invented the word nontent for "content" that is neither interesting nor well-produced.

Today I had a discussion with a Fortune 500 client about their You Tube channel. I noticed that this company with $10 billion in sales has a You Tube channel with 72 followers. Ad Aged which has no real axe to grind and really is about my need to write every day, has 56 followers.

Not sure what the point is. But there's one in there somewhere.

Two minutes with upper management.

Courtesy of the Ad Contrarian.

Small clients run small ads.

That's all for now.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The phrase that says it all.

"Vision without resources is a hallucination.
Resources without vision is a waste of time."

My friend RR called the above to my attention.

Will Madison Avenue become Tokyo?

"Toyota had lost sight of quality in its quest for quantity." --Akio Toyoda

Eventually nearly every business faces a quandary. How do we do what's made us successful more often and in more places so we can make more money? For a while, you resolve to hire the best people. You inculcate them in your culture. You rally them and they perform. It works. You get bigger and better.

But then, inevitably, the talent pool runs dry. So, because your shareholders and country homes are clamoring for more cash, you begin to lower your standard. You accept lesser people. You chasten your ambition. You segregate. You say things like "we have accounts that win us awards and other accounts that make us rich."

You continue to grow. You continue to acquire accounts that make you richer. You take your eye off the awards accounts because of the massive amounts of revenue coming from the rich accounts.

The downward continues. Your level of talent begins to match the quality of your accounts.

And all of a sudden, you wake up one morning and you suck.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The writer stumbles.

Last night, late, I stumbled upon an important essay, "10 Tricks to Good Writing" by the brilliant and prolific author, Elmore Leonard. You can read the whole thing here: but, Leonard, being a good writer sums up his entire essay in just a few words.

"My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

While Leonard's rules are specifically about writing, everyone of them can be brought back to advertising. People in advertising most often are comfortable making ads that "sound like ads." It's comfortable. It's something you've seen before. It's comforting. It's what you expect.

That's advertising at its very second best.

Down by the riverside.

Last night, having worked relatively late, I returned home in the rain and I needed to walk. I kissed my daughter hello, then put the leash on my dog and headed out to the river.

The river at night is deep and melancholy but if you listen closely, over the roar of speeding automobiles you can hear it ripple and splash. It soothes me. Makes me feel like I am not alone in the world.

Up ahead, uncharacteristically, despite the dark and the rain, was a cluster of men. A flurry of Puerto Rican Spanish drew me closer.

When I arrived at the group, I immediately knew what the commotion was about. A man in the center of the group held--tentatively--a fishing rod--a rod that was bent in half under the tug of some undersea leviathan.

As the fisherman tried to bring in his line, the Puerto Ricans speculated. "A tire," said one. "El muerte, a dead body," said another. "A shopping cart," said a third. The fisherman, oblivious to all this speculation just kept bringing in his line.

At last, after a good 15 minutes and some puzzled looks from my dog, something broke the surface of the water. That something was flailing and struggling like a wrestler avoiding a pin. The men yanked the creature out of the water. It proved to be a giant squid, its tentacles waving and ink squirting.

One Puerto Rican grabbed an arm of the squid and like it was a cave woman dragged it across the macadam to a grassy area away from the water. The squid began to settle, losing energy, fighting for breath. It looked at us with its giant saucer-sized eyes.

And then, well then, something strange happened.

It spoke.

"George," it said.

The Puerto Ricans turned to me. My dog let out a bark.

"George. Make the logo bigger. You have to dial-up the branding or the spots won't work."

I moved through the group of men and knelt down by the squid. I knew I was facing not just a squid, but an Oracle. "But what about my integrity?" I asked. The squid paused, gave a squirt of ink and, his breath expiring, went on.

"Don't fight it man." By now the creature's voice was barely audible. "Life's too short."

I gave my dog's leash a gentle pull and I walked home.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Worth 16:09 of your time.

From my pal Wyatt.

A hostile workplace.

Yesterday's score card:

Hours in meetings: 11
Minutes spent thinking: 11

Monday, February 22, 2010

A story.

I might have told you this one before. But I think it bears repeating.

Once me and a passel of other creative directors produced a worldwide multi-media campaign. Though our ECD had approved the initial work, mid-stream he took a short hiatus. He was missing when the work got made.

When he came back, he hated it. Really hated it.

He sat the lot of us down and dressed us down. What he said is important. Something I've never forgotten.

"I'm not pissed that the work sucks," he said. "I'm pissed our level of ambition has started to drop."


Every once in a while something happens and your work isn't what it should be. The worst thing you can do is accept that.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who wants to go first?

When you show rough cuts to a large group of people (and when do you not show them to a large group of people) someone invariably asks "Who wants to go first?" Maybe I'm too sensitive, or even paranoid, but I can't help but think that the same question is posed
before the start of a gang-rape.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Some things don't change.

There are a lot of experts, bloviators, pundits and professional opinion-givers in the world. Many of them seem to migrate to our business. They have a point of view on "the new media landscape," on "new marketing paradigms," on "modalities and methodologies."

What they forget is that people are human. And that human reactions to a well-told story haven't really changed for millions of years and likely won't change for millions more. "The Odyssey," pretty much regardless of which version you read is every bit as good as "The 300," "The Wolfman," or any other rip-snorting tale.

Just now I came upon this sentence in The New York Times:

"The pseudonymous critic T-Square, writing about the building in 1927 in The New Yorker, commented that 'No matter what the modernists say — or do — there is no getting away from the fact that a Corinthian column is a swell thing.'"

I'm sure T-Square was reacting to all those back in 1927 who were declaring the end of architecture as we know it. (Just as many today declare the end of advertising as we know it.)

A good column is a good column. And a good story is a good story.

Let's make this easy.

People, whether they know it or not, walk around with checklists in their heads. When they enter a room or meet someone or hear a song or see a movie, they immediately run through a list of criteria and then conclude "like or dislike."

Such checklists are burned into your brain. They are why you gravitate toward a certain painting in a museum or turn down 44th Street rather than 45th. These are reactions to stimulus that are barely conscious or thought-out but legitimate nonetheless.

People in marketing and "human resources" carry checklists on their sleeves. They carry their musts with them and wear them as a frontlet. Never is the discussion about "do I like this ad?" It's almost always about does the ad do this, this, this and this. Will my field people like it, my salesforce, my boss.

HR in their zeal for 360 reviews gives you about 12 categories on which to rate people. They could just ask "Do you want them on a pitch?" "When it's late Friday and the work is due Monday and you're nowhere, do you want them in the room."

Brains work pretty well in general. We intuitively avoid danger--that's how our species has survived for the last couple million years (or last few thousand if you're Sarah Palin.)

However, brains don't work if they think too hard.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How not to look at a spot.

I think I heard somewhere that the average American is exposed to something like 140,000 words a day. By my calculation that's like a 560 page book beamed at you every day. Unless you're Stephen Hawking on high-doses of Gingko Biloba that probably means that your head is overloaded with or tuned out from messages.

That being said, what do clients do when you review spots with them? Well first they sit down in a quiet conference room and neaten their papers. Then they unravel the scroll in their heads. A scroll that has a list on it of all the internal constituencies the ad must please and all the copy points that must be hit so that they won't displease their boss, their boss' boss, their boss' boss' boss, their CMO and their CEO.

They watch the spot.

They say, politely and calmly, "Can we see it again?"

Then they say, "We love it."

Then they go through their lists.
Their list of fears.
Their list of threats.
Their list of musts.
Their list of must-nots.

Then they talk. If you are showing a :30, they comment for approximately two-minutes for each second. An hour.

You leave the room.

Time to recut.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What about my cantaloupe?

Last Saturday I bought a cantaloupe.
It wasn't quite ripe until yesterday.
But I had to work too late yesterday to enjoy it.
And tonight, too.
So now it's getting mushy.

There's a lot that can piss you off about work.
Add this to the list.
A wasted

The ultimate boring machine.

The new BMW work that's been inundating the Winter Olympics is among the worst work I've seen in a long time.

A car painting with its tires reminds me of a dancing bear in a circus. A neat trick but who cares. And the attempt to make BMWs synonymous with the word "joy" is similarly banal and forgettable.

For twenty years or so BMW did great work. The tagline "The Ultimate Driving Machine" defined the brand and likely remains indelible regardless of how BMW and its agency bastardizes the brand's legacy. This new work is unsufferably bland and look-alike. It speaks of joy while delivering boiler-plate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No one knows anything.

If you read the news assiduously, you begin to understand that knowledge and facts are mutable things. About once a month, it seems there's a finding that shakes the rafters of conventional wisdom.

Today in The New York Times scientists revealed that ancient mankind has been going to sea "much longer than they had expected." Like hundreds of thousands of years longer.

Upon discovering some ancient stone tools on Crete, a scientist remarked: “We were flummoxed,” Dr. Runnels said in an interview. “These things were just not supposed to be there.”

Of course in advertising there are legions who believe that the world makes sense. If, say, you "make the logo bigger," then your brand awareness will improve.

In other words, people in advertising and elsewhere tend to create tidy little universes for themselves in which everything makes sense, where perceptions and realities align and where there is a neat causality between actions and reactions.

Unfortunately life--not theory--is much more random, much more full of surprises. In fact my guess is, the more orderly you attempt to make your universe, the more out of step you become with actual reality.

I've quoted Czeslaw Milosz before and I will probably cite him again. If only because the epigram below seems to make so much sense:

"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."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another advertising awards show.

Mr. and Mrs. Carrot were in New York, staying at the Waldorf, for yet another advertising awards show. It was raining and of course they were running late and there was a tussle in front of the grand hotel to find a cab. Mr. Carrot, impatient, leaned out into the street to hail a cab and was brutally run down by one instead.

He was knocked to the sidewalk and Mrs. Carrot was hysterical. In minutes an ambulance arrived and they began attending to Mr. Carrot.

"Will he live, will he live?" asked Mrs. Carrot.

Somberly the EMTs said to her, "He'll live. But he'll be a vegetable his whole life."

Friday, February 12, 2010

A dialogue in Hell.

DEFENDANT: I have been accused of a murder I did not do.
LAWYER: I understand.
DEFENDANT: I need you to defend me. To get me off.
LAWYER: Yes, I can help you. I will prepare your case.
DEFENDANT: Well, no, that's not quite what I was thinking.
DEFENDANT: What I'd like you to do is prepare three different defenses for me.
LAWYER: Three?
DEFENDANT: Yes. And I need them in a week.
And then I'll pick the defense I like the most.
LAWYER: You'll pick the defense?
LAWYER: What do you know about the law? The judge we're going in front of?
DEFENDANT: Well, I know what I like. And if I'm unsure, I can test the defenses.
LAWYER: Test them?
DEFENDANT: That's right. I will find a few people who have time off in the middle of the day. I'll pay them $50 and ask them what they think your best defense is.
LAWYER: Do these people have legal training?
DEFENDANT: No, but they'll probably have changes to your defenses.
LAWYER: Changes?
DEFENDANT: Not big ones. You know, stuff like make the defense friendlier and more up-beat.

And so it goes.

Think small.

We can say everything we need to say in a fractional unit or a small space ad.
Let's tell the consumer what to do rather than offer them something.
Three or four departments are paying for this ad, they all must have a voice.
We must get all the copy points in.
We mustn't do anything that may be polarizing.
Make the call to action bigger.
Logo must be lower right so the ad looks like an ad.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Corporate legal departments and Apple.

I took a taxi home to night, dashing through the snow in a one Pakistani-driven sleigh. During the ride I looked at my 4-gig iPod and noticed that while it was filled to capacity, it held just 1,267 songs. The ads said something like "Put 2,000 songs in your pocket." I suppose the songs I listen to are longer than the average song Apple used for their calculation.

What impresses me about Apple is that no one in their legal department was allowed to demand an asterisk that said something like "*2,000 song calculation based on an average song length of 2:30." Legal didn't force the ad to say something banal like "Put approximately 100 hours of music in your pocket."

All of us in the business sing the praises of Apple's creative and their designers. Maybe we should praise their legal department, too.

They also have balls.

The tyrrany of language.

Hmmmm, how to do this delicately.

A friend has a client who decides they want to create an online quiz. Only the don't want to call it a quiz even though it is brief and features questions and answers. So, the call it an "app."

Then because a phrase like "using the app" would sound tedious, they insist on saying customers will "engage in the app experience."

So to avoid saying "take our online quiz." They instead say "engage in our app experience."

What those words allow this friend's client to do is take a boring offer and pretend to themselves that it's interesting. It's not a quiz, it's an app. It's not something you take, it's an experience.

The ciliate.

The New York Times has an article this morning about a single-cell organism called the ciliate. It's inspired me to write this verse:

The Ciliate.

I'd love to be a ciliate.
A single cell, but the sex is great.
I'm male and female, no need to choose,
I never get "the no date blues."
If I'm lonely, I don't hide.
I just a-sexually divide.
They do not have to say "I miss you."
And never need the Swimsuit Issue.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Notes from outer-space.

Every once in a while I like to imagine what some alien-culture, like, say, college graduates, would think of America if they had nothing to judge her by other than the television commercials that aired on the most-viewed telecast ever, Super Bowl XTHLxIIV.

Here are some reasonable conclusions:

1. There is no middle age. Everyone is either a 20-something or 80+ like Abe Vigoda and Betty White.
2. No one is fat. Not even incessant beer-drinkers and people who love Doritos like Marcel Proust loved madeleines.
3. There is an unholy fascination with wearing one's underwear with no pants. And this behavior is extraordinarily funny.
4. We have learned to communicate with beavers and they are our friends. Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Squeak-el notwithstanding.
5. Beer is the nectar of the gods. You can build a house out of it, including furniture and drinking it is preferable to personal safety, thus upsetting Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
6. One of our genders feels threatened. Men are so insecure they need to reassert their penis-hood via their choice of soap.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A thought in passing.

"They're brain dead from the head up."

How bad ads get approved and produced.

From this week's New Yorker.

Super Bowl review.

"A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. And we are dying now. We will either wake from our state of induced childishness, one where trivia and gossip pass for news and information, one where our goal is not justice but an elusive and unattainable happiness, to confront the stark limitations before us, or we will continue our headlong retreat into fantasy."

The above is from Christopher Hedges' critique of modern America, "The Empire of Illusion." I thought of it as I watched as much of the "game" as I could stand last night.

Drugged, over-sized black men, led by a white man to "redeem a city."
The bombast and noise of the legion of announcers. (Imagine if our wars were as well-covered.) Products as drugs--particularly beer, soda and soap.

Someone who builds his house out of Bud Light? People who prefer to live on a desert island with Bud Light to being saved? Coke promising you can "open happiness"? Soap, or pants, that let you assert your man-ness?

This is bread and circuses and I found it all very depressing.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Supply chains and the death of America.

At one time, companies like Standard Oil, Ford Motor and US Steel ruled the world. They exemplified vertical integration. For instance, they found the oil, built the derrick with wood grown in their forests, shipped the oil in barrels made with their wood by their coopers, and refined and distributed their product through their exclusive wholly-owned companies.

Along the way, some bright MBA came up with the notion that risk and responsibility could be amortized if suppliers or vendors did the work you used to do yourself. And supply chains were born.

A product like a Ford was now made with parts and pieces from hundreds of suppliers. The trick to profits was managing your supply chain and getting component parts efficiently and cheaply. The more cheaply Toyota, say, could get gas pedal assemblies, the more money Toyota could make.

Naturally since our industry is now run by MBAs called holding companies, advertisers have adopted a similar approach. When advertising is lame creatively, strategically or from a production point of view, clients can no longer pick up the phone and call David Ogilvy or some other eponym. If they call the head of an agency, that head will call another department head, who will likely call the group head, who will likely call someone else to find out why something sucked.

There is no throat to choke.

There is a lot of talk in agencies about different departments synergizing. About everyone having a seat at the table. About creativity coming from everywhere.

I'm sure there was conversation at Toyota, too, along the same lines.

But whose throat gets choked when brake pedals stick?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It's 2010. Does anyone need to know who Lou Dorfsman was?

I had a meeting with a young designer this morning. She's designing some creative for me. I said to her, "there should be a playfulness and a tension and a symbiosis in the typography like Lou Dorfsman's CBS wall."

A blank stare.

I understand this designer's point of view.
Dorfman's heyday was many decades ago.
The machinery of his craft is today obsolete.
There are new technologies today that allow you to do things you couldn't do just a few years ago.
There are new, hot designers who are winning all of the new, hot awards.

Do you need to know who Lou Dorfsman was?

Do you need to know Shakespeare?
Do you need to know Welles?
Do you need to know Durer?
Or Michelangelo? Or unknown Greeks.

One of the things I've seen more and more of of late is creatives who go to school for two or four years to become creatives. What are they teaching them if they are not teaching them Dorfsman? And in graduate Marketing curricula, do they teach Dorfsman? Krone? Tesch?

Or is it just trends and pie charts?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Once again.

As always, click to enlarge.

What happens when the Ivory sinks?

Toyota has stood for quality for probably 30 years now. And now it seems like every vehicle they've ever made is being recalled. What do they do?

When fuck ups are made--regardless of what they are or what field they're in, there are two courses you can follow:

You can lie.
You can tell the truth.

Lying is glib. Which is the trouble with it. It doesn't give you any cause for introspection. You don't admit or own up to your mistakes. So chances are you'll repeat them.

Truth on the other hand is tough. It means you face the consequences. That you are willing to pay recompense for your misdeeds. Truth hurts. It probably hurts enough so that telling it will act as a governor in the future.

Tell the truth.

If I were Toyota, I'd somehow find a way to buy ten minutes of commercial time on the Super Bowl.

I'd spend five of those minutes apologizing.
And another five saying how I'm going to make it up to you.

True or false?

We love it.
We love it but.
We love it but could you change the visual so it's more human?
We love it but could you add a mention of our nationwide reach?
We love it but the call to action needs to be strengthened.
We love it but legal has demanded some copy changes.
We love it but we have to say "can help" before every verb.
We love it but we need to talk more about our process.
We love it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The gizmo that could save...

print, the auto industry, television, the government, advertising.

Now that the iTampon has been revealed, extolled and otherwise heralded as the savior of printed media, I started thinking about what would really save print. Thinking along those lines I quickly extrapolated my thoughts to other areas.

The gizmo that could save print, I concluded, is the human brain. Here's an example of what I mean. For 30 years or so I read the advertising column in The New York Times. It was my "first read" of the morning, because it "imparted useful information in an engaging way." Of late, Stuart Elliot has been writing about the prevalence of wedding rings on the fingers of actors in commercials. Meanwhile our industry is in the middle of a tsunami of changes.

So, I find Elliot irrelevant. It has nothing to do if he's paper or digital. It's that he's been pandering to the dumb. Not digging. Reporting pablum.

The same has happened in most every other industry and sphere. The filth on television and the movies that passes as drama, comedy or action. The lack of historical reference, the lack of acting, the lack of intelligence are appalling. So, when my wife says, "do you wanna go to the movies?" I think of how rotten the whole experience is--how I can't easily get a reserved seat, how the theatres are small and noisy, how the movies themselves are often nothing but a string of curses interrupted by a string of special effects and I reply, "No. I have a Rene Clair movie on dvd that I'd rather watch."

What's happened in the world, and accelerated over the last 30 years, is the acceleration of idiocy. Idiots rule. We cater to them. Their opinion matters. So the fattest nation in the history of the world gobbles up the intellectual equivalent of a double-cheese four cheeses pizza with cheese baked into the crust.

Idiots rule. Those with active brains feel left out. So things get dumber. And idiots rise higher.

Dum de dum dum.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I still don't understand.

I am cursed with a good memory and an affection for intelligent, differentiated marketing.

Maybe that combination leads me to question what marketing people do all day.

When I was a kid, there was an airline that flew to the Caribbean that promised you your money back if you stayed a week and had more than a certain amount of rain. That, not "low prices" induced people to fly.

The Chris Craft company, hearing too often that people weren't buying boats because "when would they use them?" ran an ad about "the 120 days people have off every year." Don't think about just using the thing on a weekend--think about all the holidays and days off.

Today, people who run beauty account seem to think finding the right celebrity who's "really really beautiful" is an idea. Brewers seek a better fart joke. Automakers search for a windier road.

Or words are copy-tested for their potency.

Such things are not marketing. They're time-sheeting.