Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I adapted this from today's Maureen Dowd.

What to do when things go wrong.

First: Declare any new revelation old and unimportant. “That’s not new news. We’ve handled that already.”
Second: Blame somebody else. Hopefully someone who’s just recently left the company.
Third: Say black is white. “We welcome this loss. It will make our business stronger.”
Fourth: Demonize someone.
Fifth: Blame the victims.
Sixth: Throw gorilla dust. ie Make up a solipsism. “The way to deal with dangerous drug dealers is to get them in therapy and back on the street as soon as possible.”
And finally, seventh: Use the omnipotence defense. As in, “I can’t be wrong because I can’t be wrong.”

George Orwell and advertising.

Pursuant to just about everything.

"In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

They blew it. Again.

In just the past seven days or so, two Madison Avenue behemoths, JWT and Y&R have appointed new head honchos. Naturally, neither of these appointees come from the ranks of creative. And almost just as naturally, JWT and Y&R and countless other agencies will declare, declaim and otherwise defecate that creative is at the center of all they do. It's at the center perhaps, but it sure as heck ain't at the top.

The best agencies of all time, I'll make this really simple, are run by creatives. Just like the best restaurants are run by chefs. And the best schools are run by teachers. There is no disputing this.

Ammirati & Puris. (AD and copywriter)
Ally & Gargano. (AD)
Scali McCabe Sloves. (AD, CW)
Goodby Silverstein. (AD, CW)
Doyle Dane Bernbach. (CW)

I could go on.

The issue here is manifold. First is that agencies--especially those affiliated with holding companies--have tried to routinize the processes of running ad agencies. They've tried to best practice what is inherently a business that relies on nuts. Creative people tend to be less orthodox in their methodology (the good ones are every bit as methodical as business people but just in their own ways.) Therefore, their peregrinations, moods and attitudes scare the money men who run things now. Therefore in most advertising agencies creatives are isolated and left in a corner to be rolled out like a dancing bear in the circus. Second, good creative people tend to think in macro, not micro terms. They see tectonic movements in popular culture and respond. This means they are "different." Different is to be shunned. Finally, creative people don't usually play golf. And at the end of the day, golf is all that matters.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

99 lies. A work in progress.

1. I will never lie to you.
2. We're all in this together.
3. The only thing that matters is the work.
4. I'm a straight shooter.
5. I like it.
6. This place is not a sweat shop.
7. I hate calling you on the weekend.
8. If the client doesn't shape up, we'll resign the business.
9. We will get you the help you need.
10. You don't have to make these changes, they're just my two cents.
11. We're going to give you consolidated feedback.
12. It's good for the category.
13. Just one thought.
14. I'll call you right back.
15. We finished second.
16. We're all about work-life balance.
17. Lunch will be served.
18. If we make a good impression with this presentation, we'll win more business.
19. No one in the company is allowed to use car service.
20. Raises are capped at 4%.
21. There's a hiring freeze.
22. No one's getting a bonus this year.
23. This business is supposed to be fun.
24. This is a meeting to help you clear your calendar.
25. I always have time for you.
26. I'm not complaining.
27. It's going to get better.
28. You won't take the hit for this.
29. I really like what you've done so far.
30. Don't worry, this is a one-time thing.
31. In the future you'll have a much longer turnaround time.
32. Yes, we have an internal bidder/a bid from a contractor we always work with, but everyone has a fair shot at the contract.
33. Can you give us a break on the price for this project? We can make it up to you on future ones.
34. This is our last change.
35. I know we told you this is a rush job, but can you put it on the back burner for a moment and work on this one instead?
36. Sorry I haven't had a chance to look at it for the past two weeks. Here are my changes -- I need these back before my meeting starts in an hour.
37. Have a nice day.
38. I want to know if anyone has a problem.
39. I know we've sold out on this project, but we'll get our integrity back on the next one.
40. We can easily combine concepts A and B.
41. We need to do this to show the client it won't work, they'll never buy it, so don't spend a lot of time on it.
42. I loved the copy.
43. I hope you don't mind but I made a few minor changes to your script before showing it to the client.
44. We're interested in trying something different.
45. I'm not worried about face time.
46. We're focused on the results, not the process.
47. It's not my call.
48. That's my final offer.
49. This meeting will help clear up any points of contention.
50. This meeting will bring us all to an understanding.
51. This meeting will be a more productive use of your time than whatever else you might have been doing.
52. This meeting is a chance to get your opinions heard.
53. Bonuses for the management have been waived and are being redirected to feeding the homeless and caring for abandoned animals, without any pressure from outside sources.
54. This is only between those in this room.
55. The call/meeting will only last 30 min/1hr/90 min.
56. Please, just this once.
57. This is an unusual situation and request.
58. Market research will help us find the answer.
59. I'm counting on you.
60. All we need is this win.
61. We aren't political.
62. We'll be making a decision in a few days.
63. We have a great relationship with this client.
64. I have a hard stop.
65. We all have to suck it up a little bit.
66. The money will always be there.
67. You were overpaid when we hired you.
68. You've got an attitude problem.
69. It is what it is.

I will update this list throughout the day. Please respond with suggestions.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Beep beep. Flash flash. Vibrate.

1905 is considered by people who know about these things Einstein's annus mirabilis or "miracle year." Not only did he receive his PhD. that year he also wrote the four papers which first earned him his fame.

During that year Einstein subsisted by working in Bern in the Swiss patent office. It was pretty boring work and Einstein could do his patent work with one part of his brain while unraveling the mysteries of time and space with another part.

Undoubtedly Einstein had a lot to deal with. It's never hard starting out and he was a stranger in a strange city. That said, I wonder if the world would be a different place if Einstein had had some of our technologies.

We walk around, we sit in our work spaces and we are assaulted by a barrage of flashing lights and whirs and beeps. My two blackberries flash that someone's sent me an email. My desk phone light says someone wants me. My Microsoft calendar sonic brands me into submission telling me when I'm due here or there. My IM beeps. Things vibrate and not in a good way.

I know we can block these things. We can un-tether ourselves from social media, stick our berries of color in our desk drawers and eschew email. But despite that we know we have all that looming over us. Someone wants us for something. Or, perhaps more pointedly, something that you're not doing at the moment is more important than doing whatever it is you are doing. That's why a flashing light beckons.

The other night I saw "Aida" at the Metropolitan Opera. A cast of hundreds. Sets that we're literally 100 feet high. Amazing voices and performances. Amazing music and emotion.

There were no "quick cuts" in Aida. No eye-blurring, head-jerking, whiplash-inducing suddenness. There was a story that took time and space to develop and tell. I suspect Verdi would have frowned on music videos--though he might have created their forerunners.

What we face today is a global attention deficit disorder. A panic response to the demands of the momentary.

I think that may be why nothing very worthwhile ever gets done.

Our guest columnist gets ontological.

While Mr. Big Schott gets ready for his work, Sylvie and I sit in the kitchen having a muffin, corn, and a cup of coffee. Mrs. Big Schott is cooking up a storm it being Passover dinner tonight and all four burners are burning and the oven is on too, it feeling like an oven with all the cooking going on.

So, I did what a normal person would do, I open up the window a bit, we should have some ventilation. A minute or so later Mr. Big Schott walks by and says, "Close the window, Uncle Slappy, it's raining outside."

So I say to him, "If I close the window, it will stop raining?"

That's the only way to deal with a big schott. Stump him.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A guest columnist.

My Uncle, my father's brother, Oscar "Slappy" Tannenbaum was the rabbi at a small east side congregation, Beth Yuiz Miwo Mannow, for over fifty years. They made him Rabbi Emeritus a few years back and stripped him of his congregation. Said he was too old and opinionated.

Anyway, Rabbi Slappy is up from Florida with his wife of sixty years, my Aunt Sylvie, staying with me in our spare bedroom. The other morning when I was writing my blog he asked to give it a try. What follows is his post.

My big schott nephew, Mr. Advertising executive has me over for the holidays and how do you think I feel? As helpful as an eggshell in the kugel. Is there anything I can do, I ask Mr. Big Schott. He looks me up an down like I'm a veal chop, and says, relax Uncle Slappy, why don't you for a little while watch on the Philco the schvartzes jumping up and down in the basketball. But I'm not dead, I tell Mr. Big Schott, you want I should go to the grocery? Twenty people you are having over for seder tomorrow. What are you I kibbitz, a seder masochist. But Mr. Big Schott says, Uncle Slappy, sit. Watch the Philco and relax. I get up and leave anyway. Mrs. Big Schott asks me to go to the grocery to get some coffee.

Everywhere I look these days I wonder as I wander. And everywhere I wander I wonder, what's the big schmear about Starbucks? Personally a good cup of coffee, I believe, is a pleasure, but to my taste buds, I'm not so sure that anyone has ever improved on the taste of a nice cup of Savarin, in the big red vacuum-packed can so it should stay fresh, not the flimsy bag you get for $10.99 at Starbucks. Slow, also, Starbucks is. Me, I'd rather have a Yente than a venti!

All this Starbucks and I started to think about supermarkets. It used to be you could pick up a two or even three pound drum of Savarin in a dozen different supermarkets, now it's as hard to find as Vitalis. There was Bohack's, King Kullen, Waldbaum's, Finast, Daitch Shopwell, the A&P and more. Now, zilch. The Italianishe D'Agostino and the Food Emporium. Emporium, my tuchas. Emporium we don't need. A nice grocery with Savarin, we do.

I walked from Mr. Big Schott's apartment on 83rd Street up to the Polo Grounds looking for Savarin. And my cupboards are bare. Even the Polo Grounds are gone. No more. replaced by big k-nocker housing projects.

I came back at ten. And Mr. Big Schott was furious. Where have you been for six hours Uncle Slappy? I was worried silly. And also I forgot the coffee.

Vus kenist steen?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A bit of old New York.

150 years or so ago, New York City was virtually out of clean fresh water. So they embarked on an infrastructure building program to bring water from an upstate watershed to the city, building giant reservoirs and aqueducts.

I ran through a park in Harlem this morning and saw this person-hole cover. I thought about infrastructure. How people and governments used to invest. And how inalienable rights like access to clean drinking water weren't once under siege by tea partiers who would declaim that such beneficence was contrary to our founder fathers' notions of individual freedom and states' rights.

People used to care. And further, they cared that others didn't care.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ignoring 1/5th of a billion dollars.

I just heard on NPR that well-over $200 million was spent on advertising over the past twelve months or so for and against the recently passed health care bill.

When you consider that probably 95% of the people had already resolutely made up their minds as to their position on the matter and that 40% of the population doesn't vote, this is a staggering amount of money to reach what in my estimate amount to about eleven swing voters.

I was lucky enough not to see (or at least not to remember seeing) any of these spots but I reckon they were just a lot of words. But no definition of what the health care debate was really about.

I hold, and will always hold, that 99% of clients don't know what they sell. They think they're selling a computer while Apple (one of the 1%) is off selling creativity.

No wonder everything is eminently ignorable.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hu's on First?

Are you Andy Sung?
Andy Sing?
No, Andy Sung.
Andy Song?
No, Andy Sung.
No, I'm Andy Sun. Andy Sing is on 14.
I'm looking for Andy Sung.
Andy Song?
No, Andy Sung.
Andy Sun?
No, Andy Sung.
Andy Song is across the street.
Sung not Song.
Oh, Andy Sung. He's no longer with the agency.

No Exit Advertising.

Yesterday I realized something more disturbing than the usual things I ordinarily realize, like the planet is about to spin off its axis and hurtle into outer space where we will either freeze to death, incinerate or be enslaved by beings of superior intelligence.

What I realized is that most of our industry, it seems on this cynical Thursday, are engaged in creating work that is a "temporary stop-gap."

"I know this isn't what we want to do, but we need to be in market so use out of focus film shot by a one-armed Peruvian director who is the cousin of a friend of the client's wife's tree surgeon."


"We need to have a site up while we're getting our site ready."


"We can't make any claims--they've just been negated by legal, but we're committed to the media and need to run the spots."

And so it goes.

And here's the rub.

We create a series of temporary stop-gaps.
And they last forever.

I laughed so hard I cried.

Creating in-flight videos.

"To fasten your seat belt, insert the metal tab..."

To fly is to ignore. You ignore the inflight video that seems not to have been updated since 1966. You ignore it because it is irrelevant. Because you have seen it before and because it does not impart useful information.

Unfortunately, I'd guess that 99% of all that the ad industry produces--maybe 99.9% of what our online friends generate--falls into the in-flight video camp. Tired. Uninspired. Not admired. Should be retired.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

In short as an industry, we have given the viewer permission to stop listening. And because they have stopped listening, as an industry, we've fallen prey to magic elixers that will "engage people in conversations about brands." We hold social media and tweets as a shibboleth, a panacea, the "engagement" answer. We say, "this will get people to listen!"

The simple truth is people will listen. They will tune in. They will take note if you give them useful information in an executionally brilliant way. Movies are breaking attendance records. TV viewership is at an all-time high. More books are sold than ever before. And so it goes.

People are listening. They are paying attention. They want entertainment and information.

But not to in-flight videos.

Which is what we seem to be creating.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Let's do some research.

Yesterday I read in Adweek that ESPN is going to field " a Major Sports Research examine consumer behavior across all media, including TV, Internet, mobile, radio and print."

Hmmm. That's a poser. What do you suppose ESPN, a sports network, will conclude?
1) Men like watching sports.
2) Men who watch sports buy shit.
3) Even women like sports.
4) ESPN is the world's best media buy across virtually all key demographics.

I suppose if there were a cable channel called the Garlic Network and they funded a major research initiative they would conclude:

1) Men like garlic.
2) Men who like garlic buy shit.
3) Even women like garlic.
4) The Garlic Network is the world's best media buy across virtually all key demographics.

I've done some research lately myself. And I've discovered that 99% of the research I conduct proves what I already thought. Ergo a new ad buzz word "Mesearch(r)."

My point is fairly simple. Research seems to occupy an agency's middle stage. You're not doing nothing. You're not creating actual work. You're smack in the middle. You're creating work about work.

Undoubtedly some research proves valuable. Living with customers, like Melville lived on a Whaler, teaches you things you wouldn't otherwise learn. And research can do that.

I fault research only when it is a substitute for genuine thinking and for actually doing things that move people.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More on consultants.


Ad Age, an advertising trade journal everyone used to read before it focused almost exclusively on articles on Twitter and other non-revenue producing, nonsensical social media sites, had an article last week on Bud Light's first-ever full-year sales decline--they're calling it "The Drinkability Debacle."

It seems that the fine swill-merchants at Anheuser-Busch or In Bev or Wal*Beer or whomever owns the piss-producing conglomerate decided to hire a bunch of consultants so as to make marketing scientific and, therefore, immune to failure.

"Pretend you're doing something scientific and you can charge millions for it. Insecure marketers are suckers for pseudo science, the biggest scam in the marketing world. The lure is of course the seemingly logical conclusions one can draw from the numbers that can be distilled from the answers to a set of questions."

Here's the part I especially liked in the way it explains how marketing experts "proved" the efficacy of the drinkability positioning:

"For example, a question could be Do you agree or disagree that drinkability is an important factor in selecting a beverage?

"The answer has to be plotted on to a scale from 0-10. Where 0 is disagree completely.

"Now, who can disagree with drinkability being an important factor for choosing a beverage? As opposed to what?"

Right now I'm reading a book called "Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu that Led America into the Vietnam War" by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ted Morgan. He has a quotation about midway through the book by former French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault: "I don't know where we're going, but we will get there without detours."

That seems about right.

I am speechless. (Almost.)

I was with clients last night who told me that a well-known business consulting company was hired to look at my clients' organizational structure and recommended a drive toward "functional excellence."

Here's a definition I found online of "functional excellence."

Functional Excellence

"Companies that excel in delivering value to their customers also excel at managing the internal value chain — high performance internal processes. In an era of focus on cost, and a need to outsource all but the most critical functions, the requirements for excellence in internal functions has never been greater."

Turns out "functional excellence" is new consulting-speak for firing.

Years ago I abruptly quit the highest paying job I'll ever have as the ECD of an enormous digital agency. My wife put it best. "You made one mistake," she said. "You're working for consultants and you thought they were human."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Robert W. Service.

Robert Service was a doggerel poet in the earlier part of the 20th Century. He wrote a lot of verse about the Alaska Gold Rush and earned the epithet "The Bard of the Klondike."

Nobody knows Service today, but I always liked him. And so, I give you this. If you don't feel like reading it, in 2 minutes or so, you can watch the poem recited. And pretty good, I might add.

The Men That Don't Fit In

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.

Drawing for a rainy Monday.

A bit more on eschewing one's bonus.

From today's "New Yorker."

Foregoing my bonus.

There was an article in last week's Adweek that I held off commenting on because I figured George Parker over at Adscam would sling it better than I. But it's been a few days now and fair game is fair game.

Here's the scoop. A handful of Publicis board members (only one of whom ever created an ad) have decided to forgo their 2009 bonuses as a "gesture of solidarity" with the company's employees in these tough times.

Maurice Levy left his $3.7 million bonus on the table pocketing $1.2 million in salary last year. David Kenny and Jack Klues, managing partners of the VivaKi digital and media unit, each gave up $1.2 million in bonus; Jean-Yves Naouri, evp, group operations, $476,238; and Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, $408,182. Publicis said each of those executives made the decision independently of one another.

There's a lot of blather in agencies about the importance of creative. But never have I heard of creative people--you know copywriters, art directors and producers getting even 1/10th of what these denizens of the hallowed halls of holding companies have "independently" given back in a show of solidarity.

I'm sure that this magnanimous gesture will be great consolation to the thousands of former Publicis employees who were let go last year.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Enough already.

As the weather, at least temporarily turns balmy here in New York, it's only a matter of time before kids around the city start selling lemonade for only $6 or $7 a cup. Their signs usually says something like "Lemonade. 50 cents a cup. Delicious."

Now, of course, that kind of "messaging" is obsolete. Children will spread news of their lemonade stands via Digg and 4 Square. They will tweet and use other social networking sites to begin a conversation about their lemonade.

Thanks to these earth-shaking tools, the little lemonade sellers will out-pace Bill Gates. Their stands will net them billions of dollars. Before long they will crowd-source other lemonade stands and the wisdom of crowds will send the money rolling in like fat people at a cruise ship buffet.

Isn't life grand!

My point is simple, though two-fold. 1) People have not changed more in the last 10 years than they have in the previous 20,000. If you have something to sell, an ad that announces it is still relevant. The efficacy of that communication will not be superseded by a purported conversation. 2) Anyone who proclaims a brave new world or a new world order or the death of any particular media is a history-hating hypocrite.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thought of the day.

It all changed in an instant. 6 word memoirs.

I came upon this book last night. Here's the 3-minute promotional video. Something to think about.

Slowing down.

You can hardly turn on the news these days without hearing a report on Toyota and unintended acceleration, cars speeding out of control due to some electronic or mechanical flaw.

The phrase "unintended acceleration" started me thinking. Is it possible that our entire industry--perhaps our entire economy and society--is afflicted with unintended deceleration?

We are living in an era marked by the notion that you can get something for nothing. Remember when the "permanent rise in housing prices" was going to turn the family home into a cash machine? Remember the trillion dollar war in Iraq that was going to be brief and pay for itself? Remember the myriad jackasses who think crowd-sourcing will yield thoughtful marketing communications that actually work?

Unintended deceleration comes from doing things on the cheap. It comes from playing it safe. It comes from trusting "the wisdom of crowds."

It's the love of the safe, the cheap, the tried and true, the embrace of group think that slows down, decelerates, destroys business.

We have constructed and we are cogs in a giant "sameness factory."

Slow down. You move too fast.

It all happened so fast

A turtle was walking down an alley in New York when he was mugged by a gang of snails. A police detective came to investigate and asked the turtle if he could explain what happened.

The turtle looked at the detective with a confused look on his face and replied “I don't know, it all happened so fast.”

Something you might what to think about.

A note from a wise friend.

"Well, face it... you're a perfectionist in an imperfect world.

"You have to leave some things behind at work when you go home. The account type who didn't get it. The creative director who was too intrusive. The planner who's an idiot and talks jargonish nonsense. Let it go. It's only a job."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Asymmetrical warfare.

Most clients think of marketing as a Napoleonic set-piece--one giant army ranged against another giant army on the field of battle. In fact marketing looks nothing like that.

I just heard on NPR that Blockbuster is well-nigh belly-up. Gone. Undone by Netflix and Redbox. Blockbuster who, it once seemed was on nearly every corner, was undone by asymmetrical warfare. Both Netflix and Redbox said "we can't go head to head against a giant, so we'll find another way to subdue it."

Redbox is probably the best example. Somebody probably thought, "hmm, Blockbuster has 5000 square foot stores and huge fixed costs (rent). Yet 80% of their income probably comes from the top 15 movies every week. Let's put vending machines in high-traffic areas that dispense those top 15 movies, do it for virtually no money and eat Blockbuster's lunch." Which they have.

This is asymmetrical warfare at its finest. You don't fight against strength. You find a weakness and exploit it.

By definition most marketers are not market leaders. Yet most smaller marketers attempt to go head to head against the market leader and undo them that way.

This is an utter waste of money. And in that I suppose good for holding companies. But it's bad for business. And dumb.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

One for today.

I suppose you heard about the Irishman who stayed out all night?

Paddy O'Furniture.

Because I feel like it.

A poem by John Updike.

Ex-Basketball Player

by John Updike

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

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

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

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

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

A lesson.

Years and years ago, when my older daughter was enrolled in her expensive Manhattan pre-school, there was a get-together, a question-and-answer session for the parents with the wonderful woman who ran the school.

One parent stood up and said bluntly, "Before my kid got here, her art work sucked. After she left here her art work sucked. But while she was here it was great. What's your secret? What do you do?"

The head mistress said simply "We know when to take the paper away."

Too many agencies and clients don't know when to "take the paper away."

Work is shown. A reaction is gotten. And then...


Soon all the edges are smoothed. All the soul is eviscerated. All the laughter becomes polite.

It becomes a snooze.

Take the paper away.
Before it's too late.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Can we agree on this?

A holding company I know, one struggling with its stock price (that should muddy the waters for those of you trying to figure out whom I'm talking about) has an expense system called "concur." Presumably because "fuck you with an iron rod and rotate" is hard to remember. Here's how I think the big wigs dreamed up the name.

Big Wig 1: "Let's create an expense system that's nearly impossible to figure out."
Big Wig 2: "Let's make it so difficult people don't do their expenses and we benefit."
Big Wig 3: Let's make it time consuming, inelegant and nasty.
Big Wig 1: I concur.
Big Wig 2: I concur.
Big Wig 3: I concur.


Someone, I don't know who, once said that all of Western literature consists of basically seven plots. I know for a fact that there are about seven jokes in the world with variations, all of them told one summer evening by my cousin Slappy Schlesinger at a resort in the Catskills.

By the same reductio ad absurdum I have come to believe that there need be only seven or so briefs for the entire ad industry. Nothing should come to be more complicated than this.

Problem 1: Nobody knows who we are.
Brief: Create advertising that tells people who we are.
Problem 2: Nobody knows what we sell.
Brief: Create advertising that explains what we sell and how it helps.
Problem 3: We are being vastly outspent by much larger competitors.
Brief: Create advertising that gets at least as much attention as said much larger competitors.
Problem 4: We sell, essentially, a parity product. A product with no point of difference.
Brief: Create advertising that differentiates the company as superior.
Problem 5: We are in a low-interest category.
Brief: Do something interesting.
Problem 6: Nobody knows how to use what we make or what it's for.
Brief: Create advertising that demonstrates the products.
Problem 7: My product is hard to get, so people don't try it.
Brief: Create advertising that makes the product easier to get.

My point, I hope, is so simple a CEO could understand it. Advertising is all about making things simple. Lowering barriers. And making brands likeable. There is not much more to it.

Unless you hire entire marketing departments and agencies who need to complicate.

Monday, March 15, 2010

An ode to Legal.

You cannot say that, it isn't true.
Oh please don't list the things we do.
I know we told you otherwise,
But plug your ears and close your eyes.
At all times play it safe and cautious,
Don't make a claim, it makes us nauseous.
Do not take chances, do not be bold,
When legal speaks, do as you're told.
Don't be fancy, don't be cute,
That's cause for a class-action suit.
Say nothing, water-down all claiming,
At least your ad won't be defaming.
It's time, you know, give up the fort.
Otherwise, we'll meet in court.*

Vehicle(s) shown may feature optional equipment.MSRP does not include delivery, processing and handling fee of $875. Excludes taxes, title, license and optional equipment. Dealer price may vary.©2006-Inc. All information contained herein applies to U.S. vehicles only.[1]All the airbag (AB) systems are Supplemental Restraint Systems. All ABs (if installed) are designed to inflate only under certain conditions and in certain types of severe collisions: frontal and knee ABs typically inflate in frontal collisions; side and side curtain ABs in side collisions; Roll-Sensing Curtain ABs at a severe tilt degree, roll or lateral G-force. In all other accidents, the ABs will not inflate. To decrease the risk of injury from an inflating AB, always wear seatbelts, sit upright in the middle of the seat as far back as possible and do not lean against the door. Do not put objects in front of an AB or around the seatback. Do not use a rearward-facing child seat in any front passenger seat. The force of an inflating AB may cause serious injury or death. Please see your Owner’s Manual for further information/warnings. [2]The Navigation System is designed to assist in locating an address or point of interest. XM NavTraffic® and XM NavWeather™ require a monthly service fee and hardware. XM NavTraffic is designed to provide real-time traffic or alternative routes of travel. XM NavWeather is designed to provide real-time weather and forecasting information in your general vicinity and along your route of travel. Discrepancies may be encountered between the system and your actual location. Road system and weather changes may affect the accuracy of the information provided. Rely on your common sense to decide whether to follow a specified route. Detailed coverage not available in every city or roadway. Periodic Navigation updates available at an additional cost. Please see your Navigation System Owner's Manual for further details. IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT OPENING A NEW ACCOUNT AT XXXXXXXXXXXX
To help the United States Government fight terrorism and money laundering, Federal law requires us to obtain, verify, and record information that identifies each person that opens an account. What this means for you: when you open an account, we will ask for your name, a street address, date of birth, and an identification number, such as a Social Security number, that Federal law requires us to obtain. We may also ask to see your driver's license or other identifying documents that will allow us to identify you. We appreciate your cooperation. Annual Percentage Yield (APY) is accurate as of 02/18/2010 and applies only to accounts opened through this Web site or by calling 1-800-374-9500. Rates are subject to change without notice and the rates on accounts other than a certificate of deposit (CD) may vary after the account is opened. Click product name for details.Deposit products are offered by XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, N.A., Member FDIC.Personal Loans and Home Equity Loans and Lines of credit are offered by XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, N.A., an Equal Housing Lender.XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Credit Cards are issued by XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (South Dakota), N.A.
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The most common side effects of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX are headache, facial flushing, and upset stomach. Less commonly, bluish vision, blurred vision, or sensitivity to light may briefly occur. Please see full prescribing information for XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (25-mg, 50-mg, 100-mg) tablets. © 2001-2009 XXXXXXXX Inc. All rights reserved. Terms of Use Privacy Policy Contact Us Site Map The blue diamond tablet shape is a registered trademark of XXXXXXX Inc.
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The advertising press.

Like many of my generation, I read two advertising trade journals, Adweek and Ad Age as well as the ad column in The New York Times. None of these purportedly legitimate sources have done a whit of serious reporting on what's going on in the advertising industry.

Daily it seems we are updated about the efficacy of Twitter, or Alex Bogusky's latest escapades, or some minor campaign by some minor advertising potentate. We hear about nearly everything that doesn't matter and almost nothing about what does.

Unemployment in the advertising industry is running at probably between 25% and 50%. My guess is that Y&R is down 600 people from its pre-WPP peak. Ogilvy is likely down 500 people from its early 2000s heights. BBDO. D'Arcy/Publicis. And more.

In fact, I just ran across these sentences (belatedly) in Ad Age: "After a nearly yearlong hiring freeze and having shed 14,000 employees, WPP chief Martin Sorrell had a bit of good news last week: The holding company is staffing up.

It's a welcomed announcement for an industry that lost almost 200,000 jobs between December 2008 and January 2010."

An industry that's lost nearly 200,000 jobs in one year and it gets no press coverage.

No wonder print media is dying.

It's stopped doing its job.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My father lends a hand.

When I was about eight years old my father got so sick we never talked about it. My brother and I returned from school, the house was dark, my mother being a depression mother and leaving no lights on that didn’t absolutely need to be on. She sat us down and told us that our father was in the hospital and needed some rest. No, she wasn’t sure when he would be home. Yes, there was something we could do. We could be good soldiers, do well in school, don’t quarrel with each other, keep our room clean, help out around the house and listen to her. If we did all that, we’d be helping our father convalesce.

I knew the next day that whatever happened to my father was pretty serious because people who weren’t ordinarily nice to me, or even mindful of me, started paying attention. Miss Keiserling, my teacher was especially kind to me. I remember once we had a vocabulary test and we had to spell correctly and use the word flawless in a sentence. I wrote “I am flawless” and she commented on my test “HA! You sure are.” She was always good, Miss Keiserling was, at giving us a break after learning about Hernando Cortes or the bi-cameral system and almost always gave in to my requests for an additional period of recess.

Around this time my mother decided I needed to spend time with other boys my age and she put me in the Cub Scouts. Even at the age of eight I wasn’t much of a joiner and I dreaded the Cub Scouts. I didn’t like the uniform. I had no desire to earn a merit badge for spelunking and the idea of needing parents to supervise our activity seemed like something out of the cornier pages of that dentist-office magazine “Highlights.” Highlights had a monthly feature called “Goofus and Gallant” which pitted the two boys against each other. Invariably Goofus would rip his school clothes climbing a tree on the way home while Gallant would collect deposit bottles and make 17-cents or something. The whole Cub Scout organization seemed bent on making us Gallants when Goofus was the one who had all the fun. In any event, every Tuesday afternoon and Thursday night I had to put on my Cub Scout uniform and go to a meeting at somebody’s house.

One meeting I remember particularly well. It took place just about a week after my father returned from the hospital—leaving his hospital bed for the one he shared with my mother. This was a Thursday night session and I rode my Schwinn over to Johnny Auletta’s house in the dark. Most of the other boys were there with their dads. The dadless ones like me mostly stuck together trying to avoid too much connection with anyone else’s dad. Then Mr. Auletta came in with eight or ten plastic bags, handing one to each kid.

“Boys,” he said. “This here is your pine box derby racer. It doesn’t look like much now, just a square block of wood, but over the next few weeks, you’re to work at turning it into a racing car. When we’re ready to race, first we’ll determine our den champion. Then we’ll race for troop champion. If someone here tonight is good enough and builds a car that’s fast enough, he could go to the National Pine Box Racer Jamboree in Spokane, Washington to race against other boys.”

We opened our plastic bags and inspected the contents. A rectangular piece of balsa wood about eight-inches-long, with notches where the wheels would go and a large indent where an imaginary driver would sit. There were also four black plastic wheels and four two-inch nails to act as axles for the wheels.

“Now, boys,” Mr. Auletta continued, “read the rules on the instruction sheet and bring your racer with you next week and we’ll check up on your progress. And may the best car win.” On one side of the instruction sheet there was a simple diagram and list on rules; on the other, there were some photos of suggested designs. Somehow boys had transformed a simple block of wood into something that looked like it would be right at home in Le Mans or on the Indianapolis Speedway.

I rode home with my kit in my basket, not really sure how I was going to enact a similar transformation. The most complicated thing I’d ever made was a 79-cent Revell model of an X-15 supersonic jet. Making that consisted basically of snapping about a dozen plastic pieces together and applying decals. This project seemed substantially more involved than that. Plus, I was potentially competing for the championship of Cub Scouts across America.

When I got home my father was still in bed, resting, convalescing. My mother said it would be nice, would make him feel better if I went in and said hello to him. I sat on the bed beside him and showed him the pine box derby kit. He looked at it with interest. “Maybe you can make it look like Jim Clark’s racecar,” he said. He took the balsa wood model from my hands and grabbed a pencil that was lying next to his old Philco alarm radio on his night stand. Quickly he drew lines on the balsa. “Tomorrow, borrow a hacksaw from Mr. Martechinni next store and saw away on the lines I drew,” he said.

After my next Cub Scouts meeting I again went upstairs to say hello to my father and show him my pine box derby racer. He held the model in his hands. Again he grabbed a pencil and drew some quick lines. “Run over to Brewer’s after school one day and get some sandpaper and smooth your car until the pencil marks are gone. And pick up a small can of dark green paint and a brush as well.” He told me to ask my mother for three dollars. That would cover the supplies.

I did what my father said but I had never worked with tools before or really painted anything before. I was about to glue the wood blocks into their notches and affix the wheels but my car looked nothing like the photos on the instructions or like the racing cars I’d seen in magazines or on television. “It looks fine, son” was all my father had to say. “Besides,” he continued “It’s not how a car looks. There are no points for that, it’s how fast it goes.”

The next week when I came home from Johnnie Auletta’s house my father surprised me by being out of bed. He was sitting at the kitchen table in his old flannel bathrobe. He used to be fat and now he was thin. He had with him a drill, a soldering iron, some wood putty, my mother’s kitchen scale and a bit of the green paint I had left over. “I read in the instructions about the weight limit on these cars and I got to thinking,” my father said. He took the pine box derby car from me and placed it on the scale. “Just as I thought,” he said. “You’re two ounces under.”

Quietly my father drilled two holes in the front of the car then filled the holes with melted solder. In a minute when it had dried, he applied a dab of wood putty, smoothing it with his thumb. Then he painted it over so you could barely notice. My car was now just a hair under regulation weight. “It’s all about gravity, son,” my father said. “The weight upfront will pull the car forward.” He gave the wheels a spin and handed me back the racer.

I don’t remember anything about how my car did when it was time to race a week or so later. I know that some of the boys had cars that looked like they were made by Da Vinci—they were aerodynamic, sleek and air-brushed. My car looked like a sponge on wheels. In any event, I didn’t win. Not my den. Not my troop. Not my division, state or region. I didn’t get to go to Spokane.

I rode my bike home from the races, again in the dark. And tossed the car into a trash can at the end of our block. When I got home, my father was back in bed.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sorry but I had to do this.

An Arab has spent many days crossing the desert without finding a source of water. It gets so bad that his camel dies of thirst. He's crawling through the sand, certain that he has breathed his last, when all of a sudden he sees a shiny object sticking out of the sand several yards ahead of him. He crawls to the object, pulls is out of the sand, and discovers that he has a Manischevitz wine bottle. It appears that there may be a drop or two left in the bottle, so he unscrews the top and out pops a genie.

But this is no ordinary genie. This genie appears to be a Chasidic Rabbi, complete with black alpaca coat, black hat, side curls, etc. "Well, kid," says the genie. "You know how it works. You have three wishes."

"I'm not going to trust you," said the Arab. "I'm not going to trust a Jewish genie."

"What do you have to lose? It looks like you're a goner anyway." remarked the genie. The Arab thinks about this for a minute, and decides that the genie is right. "Okay, I wish I were in a lush oasis with plentiful food and drink."

POOF! The Arab finds himself in the most beautiful oasis he has ever seen. And he is surrounded with jugs of wine and platters of delicacies.

"Okay, kid, what's your second wish?" asked the genie.

"My second wish is that I were rich beyond my wildest dreams." POOF! The Arab finds himself surrounded by treasure chests filled with rare gold coins and precious gems.

"Okay, kid, you have just one more wish. Better make it a good one." After thinking for a few minutes, the Arab says, "I wish I were white and surrounded by beautiful women." POOF! The Arab is turned into a tampon.

The moral of the story: If you do business with a Jewish genie, there's going to be a string attached.

Friday, March 12, 2010

William Faulkner on Advertising holding companies.

I came upon this Faulkner quotation this morning. Consider it a tale told by an idiot.

"The best job that was ever offered to me was to become a landlord in a brothel. In my opinion it's the perfect milieu for an artist to work in."

I suppose that's one way to think of holding companies. As landlords in brothels. Though they ain't real artists but con artists.

Another vs.

I've been Manichean of late, seeing the world in black and white, light and dark, good and evil terms. And maybe that's too Old Testament but still, I think the simplicity of looking at poles is valuable.

I just heard a report on NPR about some sharpies who speculate on toxic assets buying up people's dreams and homes sometimes for 1/2 cent on the dollar. That's what made me think of it. That there's another struggle going on--a struggle between the complicated and the simple.

I couldn't for the life of me understand the ways and means of the money men who have exploited our cupidity and brought this country and a few others down but I do know--and this is just commonsense--that anything as complicated and as secretive as what they do can't, simply can't, be honest.

The same, of course, exists in advertising. Man, I sit through wire-frame meetings and long discussions about information architecture and interaction design. It all is so smart and so neat and so logical. But here's the thing, they left out Roman numeral one.
They've forgotten to ask "Is it interesting?"

This is a really simple business that hasn't changed for the last 6,000 years or so because the human brain hasn't changed. Make a simple, compelling promise in an interesting way and people will desire your product.

You can blather on endlessly about paradigm shifts and social nexi and conversations about brands and blah blah blah.

But life is simpler than that. Complicated is boring. Simple is interesting. And nothing matters if you're a screaming bore

Thursday, March 11, 2010

From Kurt Vonnegut. And brilliant.

My friend and partner, Tore.

My friend Tore is, in addition to being a great friend, is a great art-director and photographer. I saw the shot above on his blog this morning and we had this exchange.

Me: I love that photo.
Him: The secret behind photography is luck, and having time to make luck work for you.

It occurred to me that luck and time have been wrung out of our business. We no longer have time to wait for the luck of an inspiration, or the luck it sometimes takes to turn something kooky into something smart and kooky.

Luck and the time to make luck work for you.

I guess that's too much to ask.

Farms vs. Factories.

Farms run on universal time. The time of the solar system. Farms (I mean real farms, like the ones with "red barns and shit" to quote my 18-year-old daughter) require time. Seeds are planted and watered. Animals are cared for. It takes time and energy for nature to grow and nurture.

Factories, on the other hand, are human creations. And by massing enough humans together, melding them with machines and breaking down activity into its component parts, factories can achieve a super-human efficiency. Factories are about doing things fast. And cutting corners is ok if it leads to a corresponding increase in speed and efficiency.

Our economy, the world's economy, is a factory economy. We've even applied "factory-ness" to farming. We have all white-meat chickens with Dolly Parton-sized breasts, perfect tomatoes and a uniformity in food stuffs that is factory, not farm, borne.

What we've gained from factories is substantial--we have access to goods that in previous generations were the sole province of the wealthy. What we have lost, of course, is flavor.

In our quest for uniformity, long-lasting-ness and test-well-hood, we have reached the great middle.

Most agencies in the holding company era are factories. They are chosen by procurement departments. They outsource web development. They track employee usability and billability.

Years ago I had a boss who by many measures was extraordinarily lazy. We were on an account together that produced roughly an ad a week, 50 ads a year. He was 15 years senior to me but I produced probably 40 of those ads and he produced just 10. The agency had turned me into a factory worker, whereas my boss remained a farmer.

The 40 ads I produced were good. Good enough to get through the levels at the agency and be approved by my boss. 8 of the ads my boss wrote were good too. The difference was that 2 of his were great. One Show pencil great.

Clients and agencies make a choice everyday.

Factory or Farm.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two kinds of companies.

When you reduce things to their absolute simplest, there are really only two kinds of companies in the world. Those that make things easy for its customers and those that make things hard. Or, put another way, companies look at things one of two ways. Some companies presume that whatever goes wrong is your fault. Others act as if whatever goes wrong is their fault.

Take Toyota for instance. For years, they took responsibility for their products and made things easy for their customers. Now it seems they are sailing a different tack. Unintended acceleration or faulty braking is somehow their customers' problem. Or obfuscated to the point where it's not clear what can be done to fix it and their customers' are shit out of luck.

Likewise the telcos. Just think of how easy they make it to read their bills. There, I've made my case.

Likewise the airlines. $50 just to re-book a flight?

Or any of the thousands of companies that charge a "re-stocking fee" if you wish to return something you don't want.

I'd like to be naive enough to think that good companies will prevail and bad companies will flounder. Unfortunately the low-bid economy we live in has driven most good companies out of business. And most companies (including ad agencies) act like little more than shysters. And not in a good way.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let's make this simple.

Everyday, seemingly without end, I sit in client meetings where all manner of things are discussed, usually accompanied by a powerpoint diagram that looks something like the tubing of a French Horn.

I'm not sure what gets accomplished in these meetings other than at the end of them a lot of people have a lot of hours to put down on their timesheets.

Here's a simple way to eliminate most of these meetings and create better work as a positive side effect.

All clients and agencies should fill out, using the allotted space, the following questionnaire.

1. What do you do? Or what do you make?__________________________________________
2. How is your product or service better than your competitors?_____________________________________________________________________
3. If your product or service is not different or better than your competitors, why are you in business?_________________________________________________________

Once these questions are answered, I think we can all get down to creating great work.

Diseases A to Z, from the Times.

And Roz Chast.

A homily.

There's nothing like a social network to make you feel anti-social.

Yes, I use Facebook. Primarily because I've been lucky enough in this business so that I have been able to switch agencies just about every time I really get roiled and so, have acquaintances in five or seven cities spread across three continents. Yes, Facebook is better than a rolodex, especially if you can't keep a rolodex because you don't have the discipline.

But, shit, the things people tell the world about on Facebook. The day we read about the slaughter of 500 Nigerians it seems that the hottest topic in the myopic miasma of our lives is the snubbing of Farrah Fawcett, a mediocre actress who had the singular ability to style her hair so it looked like she just had an orgasm.

I realize we all need to let off a little steam. We need, amid our existential sense of alienation, to feel connected, even if we connect over something as banal as Josh's dog having flees again. But there has to be a better way to use your energy than trying to find out if a pickle can get more supporters than Sarah Palin.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thinking about "It's a Wonderful Life."

There's a scene in Capra's 1946 classic, "It's a Wonderful Life," in which Clarence and George go into Martini's to have a mulled wine or some such after George rescues his angel from his dive into the river. While the two are deciding what to drink, Nick the bartender (the great Sheldon Leonard) says this to them:

Nick: Understand this, sir - we serve strong alcoholic drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any strange people around to make the place seem special. Do you understand, or do I have to hit you hard with my left hand to convince you?"

Watching the commercials on the Oscars last night made me think of this scene. Not because of its filmic quality, but because the scene was all about getting to the point. My point, now that I've gotten here, is that most of the spots I saw last night don't get to the point--if they get there at all--till about the 25th second. Some commercials don't get there at all. Like American Express' Members' Project which I suppose wants me to feel good about American Express because some of its members are doing stuff for Haiti.

Well, Coke and McDonald's tell me they feed our Olympians. GM tells me they're for families. Others tell me that they're greener than the Yankee Stadium outfield.

Get to the point, willya. What are you doing for me?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Special Oscars film clips.

From "Duck Soup" and inimitable.
And Orsen Welles as Father Mapple in John Huston's "Moby Dick."

Finally, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon and Joe E. Brown in Billy Wilder's "Some Like it Hot."
None of these flicks won Oscars. But nobody's perfect.

Wasted ad dollars and Bing.

Much of the advertising we are bombarded with is a complete and utter waste of money, time and effort. This morning I woke up and for whatever reason started thinking of Bing, the Decision Engine.

I don't know how much Microsoft has spent with JWT creating ads for Bing, but let's be conservative and say that they've so far spend on the order of $250 million. For that quarter of a billion dollars, Bing's market share of search has grown from 2.69% share at launch to 3.39% share last month. In the same time frame, Google, which spends very little on advertising, has grown from 78.6% share to 85.7%. Most of Google's market share gains have come from Yahoo, which has fallen from 7.15 share to 6.09% and the Chinese search engine, Baidu, which has dropped precipitously from 8.77% to 2.61%.

I don't know how much income a percentage point of the search market gives a company. But I can't believe that the hundreds of millions that Bing has spent denigrating Google, a service people seem to love, could have been spent better elsewhere; for instance they could have been providing manis and pedis to homeless Haitians.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another reason I'm not a big fan of non-traditional media.

There are many in our business who herald the death of advertising and the pre-eminence of blogs, tweets and word of mouth. Such things are supposed to over-take paid messages and the establishment as sources of information and marketing.

Well, according to The Economist, for the week that included February 22-26, the top news item in that wretched place called The Blogosphere, the top blogged item, covered in 1/5 of all blog posts concerned a story about a group of scientists calling for the invention of a choke-proof hot dog. Oh no. I'm not making it up. Read the story and see the study here.

Here's what we should never forget. It is the wisdom of crowds that gives us the garbage moron-culture that surrounds us. It is the wisdom of crowds that gives us "The Marriage Ref." And Britney Spears. And Sarah Palin. And Death Panels. And Tea Parties. And Starbucks allowing its customers to carry guns.

I could lie about this.

And say that it's a metaphor for advertising agencies handing their clients the weapon of their own destruction, but it's a wife joke plain and simple.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A poem.

The New York Times has a book review today of a book of poems by Kay Ryan. I don't read lot of poetry outside of Ogden Nash, but this one by Ryan hit me between the eyes.

This poem, from 2005, is called "The Niagara River," but it seems to me that it's also about being a creative person in a non creative world.

However carved up
or pared down we get,
we keep on making
the best of it as though
it doesn’t matter that
our acre’s down to
a square foot. As
though our garden
could be one bean
and we’d rejoice if
it flourishes, as
though one bean
could nourish us.

Dear Clients: Here's a way to fix it.

Statistics show that something like 90% of all marketing budgets are wasted. The messages they pay for have no discernible effect on either market-share or mind-share. The messages are ignored. Or if they aren't ignored, they're misunderstood.

There's an easy way to fix this.

You know the seventeen rounds of changes you put creative through? Instead, put your creative brief through similar scrutiny. Make sure it's right. Make sure it positions you to breakthrough and fulfills and human need. Make sure it's smart. Persuasive. Backed by data and research. Put your brief through seventeen rounds of revisions. Put it through legal.

Then, give this brief to a creative team you trust. And buy the work they bring you.

If your brief is unique, your work will be unique. Unique without trying too hard. If your brief is honest, your work will be honest. If your brief is funny, your work will be funny. If your brief is breakthrough, so too will your work be breakthrough.

There's a phrase in carpentry. "Measure twice. Cut once." In other words, get your instructions right and you save labor.

Try that with briefs.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Just got off the phone with an editor.

We've been embroiled lately, ensconced and otherwise sequestered, with an editor trying to find :30 decent seconds buried within 14 hours of film. Along the way the client has changed direction about half a dozen times, hated certain particular words, certain talent and demanded other considerations all of which have interfered with the drama and communication of our spots.

In short, we've been feeling a bit beaten and are now up against our air date.

In a word, oy.

So we had a phone call with our editor this morning. "Is this the worst thing you've ever worked on?" I asked.

"On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst," clarified my partner, "where does this rate?"

The editor said, "You guys aren't even a 3."

"Not even a 3," we barked, taking umbrage at the dismissal. "So what's an 8 like?

"An 8? An 8 is when you're cutting for two months and finally the client comes down and insists on looking for scenes you haven't shot and ultimately settles on scenes you chose fourteen rounds ago that they didn't like then but like now like because they picked it."

We stand corrected.

One decision.

When you're an advertising agency or a client, you face just one decision about your commercials. It's not about what director to choose, or what VO, or what jingle you choose. The decision you need to make is more elemental: Do you want to be boring or do you want to be daring?

There are about ten companies in the US that can afford to be boring in their marketing communications but about ten-thousand companies that bore.

You can afford to be boring is you dominate the category you're in and you're willing to spend billions to lose a couple of marketshare points a year. You can't afford to be boring if you wish to gain marketshare or mind share.

So, Microsoft can afford to be boring. They have 90% share of the OS market. And no one, not even Apple, can shake that too much. The big 3 automakers used to be able to be boring because essentially the three of them divided up the six-million cars a year sold in the US to the satisfaction of each of them.

Coke and Pepsi can afford to be boring, and are, because they each have huge marketshare and that share seldom moves more than a tenth of a point in either direction. The only time they seem to do advertising that's smart and energetic is when some CMO says they want to be the market leader. Other than that, they produce sameness.

Most clients, of course, are not dominant market leaders. However, most clients and agencies think that if they produce something big and boring--if they look like a big a boring company, people will think they are big and will come to them.

This never works.

The thousands of hours I spend a year fighting with clients about stupid ass things like is their logo large enough are really meaningless. The only thing that matters is the one big thing: boring or daring.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

But it worked in our conference room...

The biggest difference between traditional advertising and online advertising is their relationship to others. Traditional advertising has always recognized and understood that we advertise amid a crowded and noisy competitive set. Your ad must do or say something different in order to get noticed. Think small. Think different.

Online advertising has grown out of the direct industry, where the mailing list was perhaps the most important aspect in reaching customers. You knew exactly whom you were speaking to and what their interests were. So the need for intrusion was lesser than that demanded by traditional efforts.

Now, of course the above are generalities and over time, the rules have changed somewhat. Online media is often as cluttered as off.

However, perhaps all this is an aside. What I'm thinking about is showing work to clients. You know the drill. Wood panelled conference room. Rapt attention. You press a button and your ad or commercial appears on a wide screen. Eyes are focused. Attention is held. A controlled and artificial environment.

Here's my proposal.

Next time I show a spot to a client I am bringing two screaming children, a pizza delivery man and a telemarketer with me. Then I will sit with the client until they need to grab a beer or take a whiz. Then I will show my rough cut as the fourth in a pod of seven commercials.

That's real life.

And probably the only way to really judge work.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Not ready to take the plunge.

Client: I finally figured out what I want to do in life.

Counselor: Oh.

Client: Yeah. I want to go into the rental car business.

That's terrific. You're gonna need cars.

Client: I'm gonna hold off on that.

Counselor: And counters. You'll need counters at airports.

Clients: I'm not really ready to make the plunge on counters.

Counselor: So you want to be in the car rental business, but you're not ready to buy cars or open counters?

Here's my simple but rather long-winded point. Businesses, whether they're car-rental agencies, baby-sitting or banking, have a price of entry. There are places you can cut corners--and places you can't. For instance, if your competitors spend hundreds of millions of dollars on television commercials, chances are you have to pony up and pay for some commercials, too.

If not, you're not really in the game.

America's last commercial.

Since it seems that every commercial these days features thin and impossibly good-looking people with medically-enhanced smiles, and since it seems that the only role of CMOs and their agencies is to drive both cost and creativity out of production, I thought I'd write America's last commercial.

As countless musicians have intoned while playing for the thousandth time the song that made them famous, "It goes something like this."

Happy people, smiling faces,
We're around in all the right places,
We're company name,
We're really on our game,
You're right at home.

We'll give you service and some more,
We'll deliver right to your door,
We're company name,
No one else is the same,
Come on drop on by.

So, let's try this for McDonald's:

Happy people, smiling faces,
We're around in all the right places,
We're Mickey Dees.
We aim to please.
You're right at home.


Happy people, smiling faces,
We're around in all the right places,
We're Budweiser,
Have us with an appetizer.
You're right at home.

The Census:

Happy people, smiling faces,
We're around in all the right places,
The US Census,
We tear down fences,
You're right at home.


Happy people, smiling faces,
We're around in all the right places,
Erectile dysfunction
We'll treat your penis with extreme unction,
You're right at home.