Friday, April 30, 2010

A report from the front line.

I was dreading today. I'm preparing things for a big meeting and I knew I'd have to staple some paper together. I was dreading it because recently my agency (actually the entire holding company) switched from the Swingline 7720 stapler to the Pointe 798.

Since I started in this business, I've been a Swingline man. I started with the 32Z (shown above). And it was the stapler all the great agencies used. Heck! It's what Bill Bernbach himself stapled with. So when they told me about the move, I was more than a trifle disconsolate.

Even after they told me that around the world we would save over $177,000 in staplers and stapling-related fees--even that wasn't enough to move me. I was stiff-necked even after they told me the Pointe 798 would reduce--in half!--stapling injuries.

I get all that. But when the pressure's on, when a major client meeting looms and the work needs to be neatly clipped, jeepers, you want Ol' Reliable.

I argued to no avail. The holding company's CSO (Chief Stapler Officer) turned a deaf ear.

The work had to be stapled and all I had was a Pointe 798.

Well, I'm here to report that the Pointe 798 is a damn fine machine. Entry is deep and even, staple-ejection is fast and clean.

God, I love this business.

Thinking of Apple.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote a six-word story and reputedly called it his "best work." "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Looking at TBWA/C/D's iPad work delivers a Hemingway-esq lesson in restraint and economy and the confidence you must possess to abide restraint.

The iPad work is perfect in its nothingness. An entire story is told in each ad without any whiz-bang photographic technique, fancy-schmancy design or high-falutin' copywriting.

Your attention is grabbed because the creatives and the clients knew a good story when they saw one. They didn't muck it up with their own egos. And they let a stunning product speak for itself.

No, it isn't.

BusinessWeek has an article today that claims "Your Office Chair Is Killing You." In fact it says that your chair is workplace "Public Enemy#1."

Fuck me with a Herman Miller, that ain't right.

Meetings are Public Enemy #1.
PowerPoint is Public Enemy #2.
Stupid requests are Public Enemy #3.
Capricious changes are Public Enemy #4.
Do-overs are Public Enemy #5.
Interruptions are Public Enemy #6.
Open plan seating is Public Enemy #7.
Babble is Public Enemy #8.
Jargon is Public Enemy #9.
Bombast is Public Enemy #10.

I'll be late this morning.

I got up on time, got dressed and all that. But then I couldn't get my search engine started and missed my train.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lunch with consultants.

Last week, I went to a new restaurant, 'Rick's Place,' and noticed that the waiter who took our order carried a spoon in his shirt pocket.

It seemed a little strange.

When the busboy brought our water and utensils, I observed that he also had a spoon in his shirt pocket.

Then I looked around and saw that all the staff had spoons in their pockets.

When the waiter came back to serve our soup I inquired, 'Why the spoon?''

'Well,' he explained, 'the restaurant's owner hired Andersen Consulting to revamp all of our processes. After several months of analysis, they concluded that the spoon was the most frequently dropped utensil. It represents a drop frequency of approximately 3 spoons per table per hour. If our personnel are better prepared, we can reduce the number of trips back to the kitchen and save 15 man-hours per shift.'

As luck would have it, I dropped my spoon and he replaced it with his spare.

'I'll get another spoon next time I go to the kitchen instead of making an extra trip to get it right now.'

I was impressed.

I also noticed that there was a string hanging out of the waiter's fly.

Looking around, I saw that all of the waiters had the same string hanging from their flies.

So, before he walked off, I asked the waiter, 'Excuse me, but can you tell me why you have that string right there?'

'Oh, certainly!' Then he lowered his voice.

'Not everyone is so observant.

That consulting firm I mentioned also learned that we can save time in the restroom.

By tying this string to the tip of our you-know-what, we can pull it out without touching it and eliminate the need to wash our hands, shortening the time spent in the restroom by 76.39%.

I asked quietly, 'After you get it out, how do you put it back?'

'Well,' he whispered, 'I don't know about the others, but I use the spoon.'

Words from Tesch.

I worked for Mike Tesch for a couple of years while we were both at Ally & Gargano. I don't think I'm just being a nostalgic old guy, but he created some of the greatest advertising ever. Work that still works.

I think about him because though he didn't pay me much mind, I studied him like a yegg cases a vault.

Just now I stumbled upon this quotation by him. A lot of people could learn from it.

"Bob [Gill} gave me a good kick in the butt. He taught me not just to decorate a page, but to have an idea and make sure you always say something, be it a letterhead or a matchbook cover. He sent me on my way..."

Do you believe it?

I was in a client meeting yesterday, a long client meeting, a long "let's talk over each other for two-and-a-half-hours client meeting" and at the end the client said this: "You know that 'if Microsoft created the iPod' video, that's us. Don't let us do that to the work you create."

OK. I thought.

And then I thought of Roy Grace's great definition of his job as a Creative Director, "I take out the garbage."

We'll see what happens. And if it gets me fired.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Allen Swift, 1924-2010.

Allen Swift, a voice actor who worked in over 30,000 commercials (not a typo) died on April 18th, The New York Times reported today.

If you grew up in New York back in the 1960s and 70s, you heard Swift as the voice of Vita Herring's "Beloved Herring Maven." I am in touch with Michael Solow, son of Marty Solow who wrote those spots, but to date haven't gotten my hands on either scripts or recordings of those great old spots.

I never worked with Swift, but I did work with one of his peers, Jackson Beck. Beck was the voice of the opening sequence of the old "Superman" TV show. The guy who said "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, etc." And also the narrator in Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run."

When I worked with Beck, he made me print my scripts in large type because his eyes were just about gone. He stepped into a booth too small for his large frame, chain smoking cigarettes. He came out a few minutes later having nailed my spots. Smoke preceded him out of the booth.

He waited till the air had cleared and then he said in his great stentorian voice, "Everything I know and love I owe to cigarettes."

If anyone has memories of Swift, I'm sure Ad Aged readers would love it if you shared.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I just figured something out.

A friend at work has spent the last few minutes raging against the stupidity of a flyer he received urging him to get Verizon FiOs. The flyer tells him that he needs to sign up for a three-year-contract and the first year of the contract is only $84.95 a month. "What will it cost for the second and third years?" he wants to know. He'll have to call an 800 number to find out.

That's when it hit me.

They're not 800 numbers.

They're Wait-hundred numbers.

Dial Wait wait wait and so on. Recorded messages and phone trees are standing by.

The military and agency life.

There's a front page article in today's New York Times about the US military's obsession with powerpoint.

What's surprising about the article is that it seems there is a bit of a backlash among the military's higher-echelons against powerpoint. Unfortunately within agencies, no such backlash is evident.

Here's a smattering of quotations from the article:

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” said Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

"Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making."

Junior officers are tied up making PowerPoint slides. To the point where they're derisively called "PowerPoint Rangers."

Here's my favorite: "Thomas X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel, whose title, “Dumb-Dumb Bullets,” underscored criticism of fuzzy bullet points; “accelerate the introduction of new weapons,” for instance, does not actually say who should do so."

Ah. How agency-esque. Put it on a slide but assign no responsibility.

One more thing I hate.

Lately I've written two posts that enumerate some things I hate. Mostly I wrote those posts because I was stuck and couldn't get more complete thoughts together; so until I did I used these lists as a holding pattern of thoughts. I knew something was bugging me, something I really abhor, but I couldn't put my finger on it so I wrote around it until my thoughts coalesced.

Well, consider me congealed.

This is a simple business populated by people who try to make it difficult. What I hate more than anything is complication and complicators.

The account on which I toil is engaged in a "re-boot." We are looking at who the "brand is." What are our strengths, weaknesses, permissions to believe, unique selling propositions, competitive set and so on.

The people who do this for a living have been doing it for nearly seven weeks now. They have come up with 72 powerpoint slides that parse the problem into more sections than an artichoke has leaves. What they haven't done, despite all their mental peregrinations, is tell me anything common sense didn't reveal seven weeks earlier. What's more, they haven't found anything interesting. Anything differentiating. Anything that could make someone laugh or cry. Or even care.

What they've done so far is determine what the problem is.

But advertising isn't just about problems. We should come up with solutions. (Years ago I heard the president of Mercedes-Benz say, "a car should make you feel ten pounds lighter and ten years younger." That's a solution. Talking about a carburetor isn't.

I hate to engage in reductio ad absurdum, but sometimes you have to.

I know some people who've been charged with selling a computer that costs two to three times as much as its competition and in large measure isn't compatible with that competition.

They're fucked, correct? How do you, in this impecunious era, sell a more expensive, less useful machine?

I dunno.

Ask the folks who sell Macs.

Or, to borrow a mantra from a recent IBM campaign: Stop talking. Start doing.

So here's my point to complicators.
99% of all problems go away when you do something.
It doesn't have to be perfect. Just make it as good as you can.
But do something.

Monday, April 26, 2010

10 more things I hate.

1. I hate people who can't get in in the morning. There is no creativity chemical that makes it impossible to get in before 9:30.
2. I hate people who can't or won't show up on time for meetings.
3. I hate meetings.
4. I hate people who tell you how late they worked the night before as if they justifies the current day's shoddiness.
5. I hate writers who can't spell and who punctuate badly. Let's eat grandma means something different than Let's eat, grandma.
6. I hate decks.
7. I hate the word "bucket," as in "we put people into buckets." Not only is bucket an ugly sounding word, it is not as good a word as categorize or sort.
8. I hate people who spend a great deal of time talking about their weekends.
9. I hate people who say "this is a short week." All weeks are the same length.
10. I hate people who talk about other people. There is enough to hate in life today without gossiping.

An oldie but a goodie.

Friday, April 23, 2010

10 things I hate.

1. I hate seeing people's underwear and/or butt cracks. It's an all-too-common sight in agencies (and the world) today. I don't give a rat's ass that I sound like a codger. Pull up your fucking pants.
2. I hate people who respond to every question with "That's a good question."
3. I hate when people modify the word "unique."
4. I hate all the reasons why we can't do that.
5. I hate when people ask, "Can I borrow your brain." What if I asked if I could borrow their breasts?
6. I hate when people stand over me when I am writing.
7. I hate people who criticize but don't create.
8. I hate people who think things have fundamentally changed. A kiss is still a kiss, the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.
9. I hate people who ask 11 minute questions.
10. I hate people who worry more about how things are presented than what's being presented.

Easy peasy.

Not all that long ago I worked on the H-P account, specifically focused on servers. I had a meeting with the CMO of H-P, a very big deal. I maintained in our meeting that H-P had a much more compelling server story to tell than they realized. The CMO asked me what I meant. In true Yiddish fashion, I answered her question with a question.
"Who sells the most Linux-compatible servers in the world," I asked.
"IBM," she replied.
"No, you do" I countered.
"How do you know that," she asked.
"I read it in your annual report," I answered.

My point today is simple and frustrating. Most companies don't know what they sell. It's our job as agencies to tell them, and show and tell the world in a sexy, informative way.

It really is that simple.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Way off Madison Avenue.

Lament all you want about the grandeur that was Madison Avenue of yore. Get wistful when thinking of Barcelona chairs and Gwathmey, Siegel-designed offices. Pine for the old days all you want and say what you will. The fact remains, it's never been easier to pick up a pair of nipple clamps at lunch.

Sports marketing.

Microsoft, one of the most hated brands in the world, has decided to advertise (i.e. put their Bing logo) on the uniforms of the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. Maybe it's just that I don't care about sports, but for the life of me I don't understand how logos on a team's uniforms helps the placer of that logo. "She searches for someone open down in the post, she finds! two points!"

Likewise, as I have written in this space before, I find it incomprehensible that someone has ever said or ever will say, "I love seeing the Mets at CitiField, I think I'll get a mortgage from one of Citi's rapacious bankers who helped bring down the world's economy while charging usurious interest rates on their credit cards."

When I go to the opera, or a museum and see that a performance or wing is paid for by some investment company or even an advertising holding company, I don't feel good about that company. I say to myself, they've made too much money, probably by the sweat of my brow.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Experience teaches.

I did not know Norman Berry who was Creative head at Ogilvy for many years and who just recently died. But since I belong to a few online Ogilvy groups, I've read, lately, more than a few tributes to the man.

This morning I came upon the briefest and best I have read. Because it speaks both of the man he must have been and of the type of leader.

This is what Berry reportedly said to a young Australian art director way back in 1985. "I give you the right to be wrong."

The right to be wrong (maybe it's better as "the wright to be rong") is teetering on the brink of extinction today. It's as likely to survive as the snail darter or integrity.

Today the right to be wrong is endangered by know-it-alls, testing and the shibboleth of "best practices." Those characteristics eliminate "wrong" and replace it with acceptably bland.

Years ago, when I was working for Ogilvy, I was shooting some spots. It was our second round of spots for the client, the first round being a disaster. I think it was the second day of the shoot when the client came up to me and my boss and said, "I think we have a hit on our hands. Too bad the first round was terrible." And my boss replied, "Well, maybe the earlier work made this work possible."

Or as the Romans used to say "experiencia docente." Experience teaches.

It does.
But only if you have the right to be wrong.

English as she is spoke.

One of the things that (in the immortal words of Mark Harris) "really rubs my goat the wrong way" is the misuse of the English language. Specifically, when perfectly good words are appropriated and redefined in order to addle, confuse or obfuscate rather than to clarify.

"Gay" is one such example. It's original meaning has been redefined and through redefinition, a perfectly good word has been destroyed. I worry now about Don. Do his parents know? (Don we now our gay apparel.)

In the past I've written about the destruction of the word "content." It used to mean something of import. Now it's anything crap you can digitize. Today, however, I'd like to consider the word "experience."

I have a client who says, I want people to be able to "experience" an ad. To this client taking an online quiz on retirement isn't taking a quiz. It's "engaging in the app experience."

Last summer, I went to Cairo. I climbed up a 53-degree slope through a stairway inside a Pyramid to a room that held a 4,000-year-old sarcophagus. That was an experience. Storming a beach during D-Day was an experience. Rolling over an ad isn't and never will be.

Acting like Apple.

I contend that you can't be in an agency for half an hour in 2010 without hearing the name Apple being mentioned. They do so much right I suppose studying them is like studying Michelangeo or Davinci or Durer if you're an artist.

From design to marketing to advertising, time and again Apple sets the standard. But here's the rub. Apple remains an oxymoron--they are mainstream iconoclasts. So clients, when presented with thinking that is "Apple-like," shoo it away like you would a fart in a phone booth. "Yeah, that's Apple," they seem to say, "but we live in the real world."

In other words, they've found a way to dismiss Apple-ness. Apple can do what they do, they seem to say (as if it were magic to be respectful of consumer needs) but we're _________ and we can't do things that way.

I often think about companies that work right. How is it that every supermarket in New York sucks but Trader Joe's can make waiting online an experience.

Here's the scoop. People don't emulate Apple because it demands commitment. What Apple does isn't really so hard. What's hard is actually doing it because it involves being honest with yourself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Can you guess?

Which investment bank has this copy on their website?

Our clients' interests always come first.

Our experience shows that if we serve our clients well, our own success will follow.

Our assets are our people, capital and reputation.
If any of these is ever diminished, the last is the most difficult to restore. We are dedicated to complying fully with the letter and spirit of the laws, rules and ethical principles that govern us. Our continued success depends upon unswerving adherence to this standard.

Integrity and honesty are at the heart of our business.

We expect our people to maintain high ethical standards in everything they do, both in their work for the firm and in their personal lives.

Which holding company while shedding linchpin accounts and millions in revenue paid one CEO $38 million and another CEO $10.6 million?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Procure your way to profitability.

Dear ______________________ Agency,

Thank you for agreeing to participate in the pitch for the _____million dollar ____________________business.

So that the review process is as orderly and as fair as possible, you MUST adhere to the strictures detailed here:

1) You will be presenting marketing and creative ideas to a room of ten people. Five of those people have nothing to do with marketing. They are procurement people who will posit that all work performs essentially the same and that choosing a new agency should come down to who is the cheapest.
2) No matter how the pitch is going we will betray no emotion, share no enthusiasms, and make no contributions. Any suggestion that you might have reached us on a visceral level is to be mitigated if not obviated.
3) You have only an hour and a half. The long term health of our company should be determined in a meeting that lasts about half as long as a wait in motor vehicles.
4) Even though our business has grown substantially, we demand that the incumbent agency pitch for their business.

Thank you once again for your participation.

We look forward to fucking you with an iron rod.


Yesterday there was an article in the special "Education" section of "The New York Times" that gave me pause. In an article called "A as the New B" the newspaper of record shows the percentage of A's given at a variety of universities and college. 67% of grades given at Brown are A's. 64% at Pomona College (as opposed to just 23% in 1944.)

Of course this got me thinking about a lot of things. How the average online rating (one to five stars) is 4.3 stars. And it got me thinking about advertising where grading must be even easier given the paucity of work that is unique, intelligent, appealing or intrusive. That is some group of people are saying, in effect, "Yeah, that's good enough. That passes."

My guess is, in fact, were it not for concocted ads approved by concocted creative directors from concocted agencies for concocted clients (I work for a client that's about 300 on the Forbes 500. We can't afford spreads. But local dry cleaners, burrito stands and barber shops can) award shows would dry up and blow away.

In short, here's what's happened. Since as an industry we don't produce A work for our real clients, we've created an infrastructure to give us the grades we crave.

Blow something up.

In the last two weeks two creative big wigs have left their agencies to start their own. In each of these cases, and many more, a large institutionalized agency had hired a creative from a smaller creatively driven shop and charged them with turning around the ship.

Unfortunately, I too, was once in that situation. I was charged with energizing one of America's largest digital shops--to make it creative.

Therefore I have, I believe, the experience and insight that allows me to give this advice to those who follow in Montague and Graf's very small shoes. Get your money up front.

Institutions by their very nature are powerful. They wittingly or not, resist change. They are in the self-preservation business. And they will outlast you.

The only way to change an agency is to blow it up. Fire even the people with the great client relationships. Because those people though they are accountable for lots of revenue want to maintain the status quo. Most people do.

In the holding company era the status quo is even more powerful and resistant to change.

Let me repeat.

Get your money up front.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

You could do worse.

Than listening to two hours of Stan Getz on a Sunday. Without interruption.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Meeting notes.

The meeters vs. the doers.

Not to be too Manichean about this, but there are two ways to divide the agency world. There are people who like to meet and people who like to do. There is an eternal struggle between these two. And I'm sad to report that these days, at least among the 27 agencies I've been employed by during the last three years, the meeters are ascendant. They are, in the parlance of "The Sport of Kings," leading and going away.

Yesterday, I had an excruciating meeting to talk about an online campaign. The Chief Meeter needed me to explain what needs to be done about six times. (I am not exaggerating.) Now mind you, I am the ECD on this work and the writer. I know what needs to be writ and I've written most of it already. So once again, in the simplest and most minced words I explain what needs to be done and when I will have it done by.

Of course, he is the one scheduling everything. But he doesn't bring a calendar to the meeting.

And last night, in a spasm of officious lack of efficiency he sends out the schedule of"deliverables" I dictated to him with one little mistake.

Instead of writing April, he wrote May.

All of a sudden he's given me five weeks to write a banner ad.


There is no reason ever to schedule a meeting.

Do the work.
Show people the work.
Sell the work.
Produce the work.
Move on to the next work.

No, but the meeters have to justify their existence.
And they do this by...meeting.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Six things that make a great client.

We talk a lot about what makes good work, or a good creative person, or a good agency. We seldom think about what makes a good client. Of course, maybe more than anything, good work does not happen (consistently) without good clients. What follows I adapted from Martin Puris' "In Advertising, What Distinguishes a Great Client." He wrote it for Adweek back in 1988. It works today.

1. A spirit of partnership.
There are two kinds of agency/client relationships. One has the client as the superior and the agency as the subordinate. A climate of fear prevails. If you, the agency, don’t do as you’re told, you’ll get canned. This kind of relationship is characterized by mistrust and intimidation. And good work never results.

Great agency/client relationships are those based on equal partnership. Fear, intimidation and disrespect have no place. And it is precisely the absence of fear that makes the relationship work. That allows for honesty. That allows agencies to disagree with their clients, to argue, to take great risks that almost inevitably are required to achieve great results. It also allows agencies to admit when they have failed.

2. Make the agency totally absorbed in the company’s product, the people and the corporate culture.
Great clients totally immerse their agencies in the products. This is hard work for both agencies and clients. It takes time, costs money and involves risks.

Only through total immersion can agency people learn the facts that become emblems for the whole. Total immersion is when an agency team thoroughly understands a client’s “corporate culture. It’s only then that it will be more likely to create campaigns that last.

3. Create an environment of experimentation and be prepared to pay for failure.
Nothing leads to mediocrity in advertising as directly as an environment of risk-aversion. And mediocrity is advertising means your messages will be unobtrusive.

Very few advertisers have budgets large enough to allow unobtrusive advertisements enter a target’s mind. Most advertisers spend at a lower level—a level at which you can’t afford to change messages frequently. So you have to find a winning campaign: one that will stand out.

Great clients want advertising that stands out. So great clients create an environment of risk-taking, and great clients back up this philosophy with a willingness to pay for experiments that go wrong.

4. Get to know the people who work on your business.
Not just the C-Suite. But the people who are in the trenches. These people are people with a true passion for your brand and for creating work that will work for you (and for themselves.) Great clients know it’s human nature for people to work harder for friends than for business associates. The happy consequence is that the great client gets more effort out of the agency.

5. Agree on a clearly defined objective for advertising.
Most advertising fails to work before the first bit of copy is ever written. It fails because we haven’t defined or agreed upon the message we wish to communicate.

Most often it seems that creative strategies are often “approved” with an alarming lack of discussion—but creative executions are scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb, often at numerous levels within an organization.

6. Keep approvals simple, and disapprovals simple and clear.
Nothing saps the energy and spirit of an agency more than presenting the same work over and over to different levels and sections of a client’s organization, debating nuance and detail along the way.

The best system for approval of advertising is, frankly, to have as few layers as possible. And yes, this does mean one layer is best.

As for as disapprovals, be honest, articulate and specific. Work hard to express your issues. Only then can changes be addressed. Great clients demonstrate that they have listened very carefully to the agency’s point of view and respect it.

Notes from the endodonist.

Yesterday I had some fairly involved dental surgery and I'm here to report that despite all claims to the contrary, claims like "I'd rather have a root canal," dental surgery is worse than a client meeting.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


While we, toiling in the fleshpots of Madison Avenue cogitate, ruminate and pontificate on the splendors of the online world--its iPads, its tweets, its "conversations," the simple truth is this: almost 1/3 of the US population is not online.

There are two ways to do this.

Through the wonders and splendors of the internet I have become an acquaintance of if not a friend with the Ad Contrarian. ( One morning when he was visiting New York we met at a greasy spoon for breakfast and conversation.

One of the topics of discussion was our blogs and how we write them. The Ad Contrarian told me that he plans his blog posts a week in advance and writes them at once early in the morning.

My approach is completely different. I wake up with no real ideas rattling in my head. I sit at my computer at around 7:00 AM and want something written before I leave for work around 7:45. More often than not, the fear of "facing the white bull that is the blank page" vanishes and I find something that makes me laugh, makes me think or makes me sick. Then I write about that.

I think the Ad Contrarian consistently produces an interesting and intelligent blog. He works thoughtfully and methodically.

I like to think I, too, consistently produce an interesting and intelligent blog. However, while I think I am thoughtful, I have no method other than fear of failure.

The Ad Contrarian and I both produce what I think is a fairly high-quality product. We produce it in completely different ways.

That's the beauty of creativity. It can't be mandated, legislated, best-practiced or time-sheeted. You just have to do it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tormented Tuesday.

Thinking about the troubles at McCann.

Ammirati and Puris.
Ally & Gargano.
Levine Huntley Schmidt & Beaver.
Scail, McCabe, Sloves.
Geer DuBois.
Geers Gross.
Bozell Jacobs.
Kenyon & Eckhardt.
Backer, Spielvogel.
Ted Bates.
Benton & Bowles.
Needham, Harper & Steers.
Rosenfeld, Sirowitz.
D'Arcy, McManus, Masius.
Dancer, Fitzgerald & Sample.
Calet, Hirsch & Spector.
Della Femina, Travisano.
Erwin Wasey.
NW Ayer.
Leber Katz.
Benton and Bowles.
Wells, Rich, Greene.
Jack Tinker.
Norman Craig & Kummel.
Lord & Thomas.

Vita Brevis. Agencius Brevis-er.

The lifecycle of agencies is not long. It seems that for every agency that makes it to its 50th anniversary, there are dozens more that wither in adolescence. What happens is corporate ossification sets in. Or the greed of a few supersedes the ambitions of the many.

Before long, accounts leave. People leave. More accounts leave. More people leave. And then you wind up with no critical mass, no reason for being.

Big agencies like McCann won't disappear, certainly not overnight. They are valuable as worldwide advertising distribution networks. However, you have to wonder.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm looking for a rock-star ________________.

About three times a week I get an email from someone in the recruiting world that says something like "I'm looking for a Rock Star flash designer" or "I'm looking for a Rock Star copywriter." They then go on to ask me if I know anyone.

Here's what strikes me as odd.

No one is really looking for a rock star. Rock stars--at least the cliche versions thereof--most often lead dissolute lifestyles. They show up late. Ingest things they shouldn't ingest. Sleep with things they shouldn't sleep with. They smoke and drink and whore. And they're demanding.

Of course, to go along with all their peccadilloes, or to counter-balance them, rock stars are usually extraordinary talents.

Agencies who say they are looking for Rock Stars supposedly want their talent. I'm sure they don't want their peccadilloes. Which means they don't really get Rock Stars because Rock Stars don't come without peccadilloes.

Here's the point.

If you want the gain you have to deal with the pain.
Most companies however want it all.
But what they get instead is shit.

What to do when you're fucked.

On Saturday it was Cracker Jacks. Today it was the newspaper industry. They both beg the same question. What do you do to your product when you start losing your profitability?

Let's start with Cracker Jacks. I don't know what forces limited their viability as a snack--whether they couldn't get distribution or shelf-space, whether people's tastes changed or if there were some other factor. Whatever the exact case, let's posit that Cracker Jack does not occupy the position it once did. So the Cracker Jack people are making less money than they used to. So what do they do? They cheapen the prize inside, their leverageable point of difference. They make the box smaller. They put in fewer peanuts. In other words, they alter the product in an attempt to hold onto their profit margin.

Newspapers, of course, have done exactly the same things. They are losing or have lost their profitability and viability. So, they fire all their points of difference. Their local reporting. Their book reviewers. Their staff is decimated. They revert, instead, to news from the wire services which is available everywhere. In short, they get rid of their soul in an attempt to maintain their profits.

Of course, myriad businesses make the same decisions, agencies included. And of course, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. Because while cuts may have given you an extra penny per dollar, slowly and inexorably you have lost your reasons for being, your points of difference.

What you need to do when you're fucked is redouble your points of difference--and reframe the argument. You need to show the coolness of the prize inside. The value of local reporting or, in advertising, the power of imparting useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way.

Here's the point. Cheapness never wins. Not long term, certainly, and hardly ever in the short term. Because someone will always be cheaper. Let's face it, about 1/4 of the world provides slave labor. Cheap is not leverageable.

Of course, this advice will be ignored, as it should be.

It's free.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

It's a fact.

I went to a Bar Mitzvah tonight. The kid being Bar Mitzvah'd is a big baseball fan so the whole shindig had a baseball theme. As a consequence I ate my first box of Cracker Jacks in about 30 years.

Let me tell you something, things used to be better.

There were more peanuts. The prizes were kinda cool. The caramel-coated popcorn was fresher. The whole thing had more flavor, more bite.

Oh, maybe I'm just too old and morose.

But things used to be better.

It's a fact.

I want to talk about toast.

My Uncle, my father's brother, Oscar "Slappy" Tannenbaum sent me this note this morning and like so many things it made me think of advertising.

Here's Uncle Slappy's note:


I want to talk about toast.

Not the "Here's to Phil" kind of toast. But toasted bread. I've noticed of late that it's hard to get good toast anymore. I think people just don't care or they don't know. Or they've forgotten.

Even Sylvie, my wife of almost 55 years doesn't do it right. She toasts well, the bagel nice and dark, but then she funfers around for ten minutes before buttering or schmearing. So what I get is a toasted bagel, not toast. Here's my point. TOAST SHOULD BE HOT. Hot is toast. Toast that's not hot is bread that's toasted. Also this is the way at coffee shops, by the time you get the toast you asked for what you have is toasted. Not toast.

Now, if you go into "Hole-y Moley," our local bagel shop and ask for a toasted bagel, you get something worse. A bagel that's been through a toaster and is warmed or slightly singed by the toaster. But singeing is not toasting.

To sum up--toast is toast when it is served medium to dark brown (pumpernickel notwithstanding) and hot.

Now here Uncle Slappy ends and I begin.

The point I think he's making is simple. The notion of good, of quality, or "the right way to do things" has all but disappeared in our world. We have the vocabulary but we use it without meaning. We have the special effects but they don't advance the plot. We have the tools and techniques but we don't have the vision.

I miss Uncle Slappy.
And toast.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mass. Mass. Mass.

Years ago when I was coming off a stint at a giant New York agency and about to start at a large San Francisco agency, I visited a small San Francisco agency to say hello to a friend.

While I was at this large NY agency, I produced literally hundreds of ads. In my estimation, and I tend to be hard on myself, the general quality of these ads was good. However, when I saw what they were up to at this small SF agency, I was blown away. Each of the three or four ads they did a year was meticulously and painstakingly handmade.

It occurred to me then and there that there may be two schools of thought. Mass-produced ads vs. handmade ads.

Now, of course in the era of the web we produce thousands and thousands of pages a year. We no longer simply mass produce, we mass mass produce. We can't afford humans to do what used to be human operations like setting type. We outsource such former skills to algorithms.

No real point here. Just a simple observation on the state of affairs.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Advertising Mine Disaster.

The New York Times, with oddly misplaced naivete asks today "Why, after such a long history of injury and death, does coal mining remain so dangerous?"

You don't have to be Albert Schweitzer to figure that one out now, do you?

You take an inherently dangerous industry with a history of having local if not national governments in its thrall and let it do its thing with little or no regulation and what do you think will happen?

Management will attempt, naturally, to get more work done for less money. Safety concerns will fall by the wayside. Whistle-blowers will be beaten around the head with newspaper-wrapped lead pipes and then fired. Consequentially, methane gas will asphyxiate some, cave-ins will maul others and black lung and other ailments will claim still more.

In short, coal mining remains so dangerous because we are pushing every bit of cost out of the system.

Advertising, of course, operates in a similar if not quite so lethal fashion. Agencies and their holding companies are in the process of driving every last cent of cost out of the system.

So, downtime is eliminated.
Salaries are cut.
Senior people (costly) are canned and their knowledge, experience and know-how goes with them.
Disciplines and strictures that shore up agencies are weakened.
Gas and coal dust (mediocrity) start filling up miners' lungs (agency employees.)
Mediocrity begets account losses which begets more cuts.

Cave-in. Disaster.

From The New Yorker.

And well worth the two minutes.

Geoff Sarkin Is Using Twitter!
by Mike Sacks and Scott Rothman

· Fixing bow tie. Last moment of freedom! Putting out cig, making sure breath doesn’t smell . . . O.K.! Let’s get married!

· Walking down aisle. Stopping. Family and friends waiting for me to finish update. Patience, people! And . . . done.

· Yes! Yes, I do take Helen to be my lawfully wedded wife! Rabbi, please respond when you receive this tweet.

· Also, confirm that it’s “wedded,” with two “d”s.

· Two “d”s, right? Thought so. And we’re good to go? Oh, yes, the kiss! LOL.

· Still LOLing.

· Helen not laughing. Maybe she will in a sec.

· No, still not laughing.

· Kiss is wonderful. Better than expected!

· Attempting to fist-bump rabbi. He’s shaking head no. Not cool! Now what? Anyone know where the receiving line is?

· For those of you at the end of the line, yes, it’s really boring, I know! Orioles are losing, by the way. BIG surprise.

· Ending receiving line early. To everyone still waiting: THANK YOU FOR TRYING. Send your good wishes to

· Attaching photo of Aunt Bess looking into camera phone and telling me to put down camera phone. Not a bad shot.

· At reception now. Someone do me a kindness? Google “Wedding Dance + Instructions + ‘Always on My Mind.’ ” Thx.

· Uncle Bob from Australia came! Can’t believe he flew 22 hours for this! Just after triple bypass!

· Uncle trying to talk to me. Sending him e-mail. Kind of busy now, obviously.

· Can’t see b/c Helen just smashed wedding cake in my face. Now have cake all over iPhone.

· Not funny, baby. Can’t seem to use the exclamation point now.

· Now I can!!!!!!!!!!

· Guests starting to leave. Check Facebook when you get home, people. Might just be a virtual bouquet of flowers waiting.

· A little mass e-mail to say, “I love u all, even if I did forget some of your names.”

· Checking in at hotel. It’s O.K., not great. Just kidding! It rocks! Good iPhone reception. Walking to room. Orioles lost, btw. SUCKS.

· Alone at last! Luckily, Blue Jays also lost! Watching video of our first wedding dance—

· Helen looks ravishing! Thx, Max, for taking over while I shot video!

· Geoff Sarkin will be out of the office until April 26. He is on his honeymoon! Someone at work please post this on system tomorrow?

· Btw, how did Beth in marketing do on her run last weekend? And what was flavor of the Friday doughnut?

· Need to know ASAP! Don’t care what time of night it is!!!!!!!!!

· Nude and waiting for wife to enter bed.

· Anyone see “Law & Order” last night?

· The new Lady Gaga video is crazy scary!

· Would u rather be an elephant or a giraffe? I’d rather be a giraffe. Not sure why. They seem happy. Must be the size of the neck . . .

· Wife getting into bed.

· Oral sex has commenced. Taking off dress sock. And now the other . . . Oral sex has started again.

· Helen seems to be enjoying herself. Anyone out there have any oral-sex stories they want to share? They’re usually pretty funny.

· Making love now. Check out this amazing article on the guy who invented wonton soup—

· What’s this thing called again? Aireola? Eereola? Areola?

· DAMN! JUST MY LUCK!!!!!!!!!!!! I love double-chocolate doughnuts! Ahhhhhhhhhhh! SAVE ONE!!!!!!!

· Before I forget: Marnie, can you check to see if my computer is off?

· @ MarnieAlwysTired: Because I like to “think green,” that’s why! Jeez, Marnie. Shout-out to the environment, hey ya! What! What!

· Still making love.

· No change since last update.

· Helen writhing. I’m changing Facebook status to “Married.”

· Helen still going. Sending in-laws Facebook “poke.” Important to maintain good relations.

· Ceiling shadows look like sea creatures! I take it back. Don’t want to be giraffe. Def want to be sea creature! Cos they swim so fast?

· Helen finished and off to bathroom.

· O.K., now I’m finishing.

· Think I might hit the hay. Exhausted! Will check back in at 3 A.M., everyone! Still thinking of Lady Gaga and sea creatures. What a day!

· It IS areola! Thought so. Thanks, Dad. Is it too soon to call you Dad?

· Uh-oh. Having 2nd thoughts about marriage. Ha. JOKING! This is the best!

· Nighty-night, everyone! Tweet y’all REAL soon . . .

· Taking off bow tie now. ♦

May the best car win.

GM, we're told, is making progress toward viability. Their cars look better and their advertising--the fake Hal-Riney-VO-rip-offs not withstanding, are slightly less awful than they used to be--only slightly mind you.

But for all GM's progress, GM's lost $4.3 billion over the last 6 months. To put that figure into a bit context, that loss is roughly $1 million/hour.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You get what you pay for.

One of the things that strikes me as being one of those lessons very few people “learned in kindergarten” though they should have, is a basic one, that is: Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Today’s media—social, digital, flash-mobbing, event marketing, etc. can be “done well.” That’s not my point. My point is that in and of themselves they are small--and by themselves do not allow you to promote a brand well. What's more. such messages are not controlled by brands—they succumb to input from all sorts of people, people we call influencers.

Entire wings of the advertising industry attempt to legitimatize these new media entities for two reasons. 1) They are cheap and 2) because they are cheap, people (clients) want to believe--desperately want to believe--that they are effective as principle brand-building mediums.

The Ad Contrarian mentioned the other day that he can’t think of a single brand (outside of ISPs) that has been launched effectively and decisively through online media. This is not likely to change any time soon.

Why? Because brands are built, at least in part, via a group dynamic that builds—not one at a time, but by many people influencing many other people at a time, building critical mass via critical mass.

This means, of course, television or print advertising. It means, if you want a big movements and big mindshare, you have to belly up to the bar and fork it over. There are of course exceptions. But by and large, if you want to be big, you have to act big. And acting big entails doing big advertising. And that means not doing it on the cheap.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The case of the squeaky chair.

Preston Sturges, as regular readers of Ad Aged might have surmised, is my all time favorite movie director. In less than a decade he made about ten movies that rank among the best ever made.

This weekend I watched for the 99th time "Unfaithfully Yours" which starred Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallee, Akim Tamiroff (one of the greatest of all character actors) and some of the usual Sturges ensemble, including Edgar Kennedy, Julius Tannen and Alan Bridge.

One of the things Sturges does in this movie is to employ outrageous cartoon sound effects to hilarious effect. A hair is plucked to test the edge of a razor and it sounds like a massive spring being sprung. Reverb.

Where the heck am I going with this?

Well, today this knowledge kept me sane.

I was sequestered in a room with a couple dozen clients for all day on-boarding sessions. What made this excruciating ordeal palatable was the fact the the chairs in the conference room were Warner Bros. cartoon squeaky.

Somehow the juxtaposition of client-agency gravity and Carl Stalling SFX kept the oxygen flowing for me.

Xenophobic offsite thought.

There's nothing like coffee in Minnesota to make you glad you live in Manhattan.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Now that I'm 52.

I've learned not to make any pointed comments when I post a cartoon like this one, which is from this week's New Yorker.


Two institutions in which millions if not billions have placed their faith have come under siege lately and it seems that Toyota—whose faithful believe in its almost divine and unimpeachable quality, has been doing a better job of handling bad behavior than the Pope.

To date, Toyota has recalled and adjusted millions of cars whereas the Church has been unable to adjust even a portion of Priests who are having trouble with their “Wishboner suspension.”

Social organizations, whether they are corporations or churches or sports teams, almost always get involved in scandals of one sort or another. It's human, and therefore, corporate nature. If scandal is handled humanely and honestly the entity concerned usually emerges stronger and healthier.

My guess is that Toyota will regain any lost marketshare whereas the Pope will continue to lose the faithful.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Madison Avenue Revitalization Plan.

This blog began with a question. Would Madison Avenue--the bloated, bureaucratic, old media miasma, follow the bloated, bureaucratic, old manufacturing miasma down the rat-hole to obsolescence.

Today I ran across this from Thomas Friedman in "The New York Times" and I had an idea.
"Robert Litan, who directs research at the Kauffman Foundation, which specializes in promoting innovation in America: “Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S. were created by firms that were 5 years old or less,” said Litan. “That is about 40 million jobs. That means the established firms created no new net jobs during that period.”

Here's my idea. And the if the holding companies would be wise if they'd follow along.

"Dear Providers of Net New Jobs:

For in perpetuity I will create advertising and marketing materials for you in exchange for 1% of your stock."

In the long run this will probably earn agencies more money than working for the GMs of the world.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dental update.

Got a temporary crown today. When we're all done I'll have so much porcelain in my mouth I'll have to brush with Ty-d-bowl.

So after the dentist, I always head to the Strand, one of the largest book stores in the world with "18 miles of books." When did our phone conversations become so sacred and inviolable that people need to have them in the crowded aisles of a bookstore.

Feeling particularly negative about hipsters today. And dentists.

Friday, April 2, 2010

You know you're in trouble when...

You're in a meeting and somebody says, "I'm quoting a McKinsey study..."

Advertising construction workers.

A couple of blocks from my office sits the Port Authority bus terminal. There, of course, is construction going on in front of the terminal, New York being apotheosis and opposite of deconstruction. It appears that the construction involves putting barriers up in front of Port Authority so that a terrorist (or, if Caucasian, a militant) can't crash a minivan loaded with 2,000 pounds of explosive fertilizer into a building that might just be better off destroyed. In any event, a whole block of 9th Avenue is partitioned off with Jersey barriers and the work is underway.

Here, of course, is where I think about advertising.

Now today is a beautiful day in New York. And most people, rushing the season, are displaying all sorts of skin. There are about fifteen construction workers on the site and about twelve of them are skin-watching. Three are working.

It occurs to me that this is about what goes on at an ad agency. 1/5 of the people do work and 4/5s say things like, "I dunno. Should the copy say 'It's' or 'it is'?" "Or could you move the button to the right a few pixels."

Like the barriers in front of Port Authority, the work will eventually get built. It will serve its purpose and before long, people won't even notice it is there.

My father gives me a book.

I suppose you could conclude that my father hadn’t had much of a childhood himself so he didn’t have much of one he could pass on to me. His father died when my father was in his early teens—nothing was ever spoken of with firm dates, either a leftover from some sloppy clerk at Ellis Island or the feeling that dates didn’t much matter, and what’s the difference if someone was born in 1885 or 1884. In fact, there was a vagueness to much of everything with my father and his family—even as to the spelling of their last names. Theirs was a long and complicated name, and my father and each of his two brothers (my uncles) chose a different spelling, not to be difficult, but more likely, that’s how someone in the family was spelling the name when each boy in turn reached an age when they said to themselves, this is ridiculous, and chose a way to spell the name and stuck with it.

That’s just the way it was for them in the 1920s and 1930s. The family had arrived just a decade earlier from some dust hole in the Pale of Settlement—a dust hole that was sometimes Polish and sometimes Russian—and there was no going back. Whatever there ever was of where the family came from was now gone. And by the time the 1940s rolled around, Panzer tanks had wiped out whatever might have remained of the past. So there was no going back, no reference points, no one who could verify a background or a history. It was all in flames.

This, more than anything, explains the relentless forward motion of my father’s life. No sooner had he arrived someplace than there was someplace else to go. Another hurdle to clear, another night to work through, another woman to schtup. Accordingly, there was no verifiable past to my father’s past. No exact locations. No dates.

His mother, my grandmother, spoke little English, but outside of Yiddish, we didn’t know what she did speak. I knew that my grandfather who, of course, was dead long before I was born, had been a tailor, but where his shop was, how he learned the trade, how he lived and thought and dreamed was a vapor. It wasn’t spoken of and when I was a boy, I didn’t know enough or didn’t feel able to ask.

One Sunday the family drove down to Philadelphia to visit my father’s mother. She lived in a row house in West Philadelphia in a neighborhood that had earlier been largely immigrants and was—this was the mid 1960s—now turning “negro” as my mother would say. Even as we drove through the neighborhood, there was no ‘pointing out.’ There was no, “that’s where I went to high school” or “that’s where I got beat up by three Irish kids who called me Yid.” There was no exploration of what had been my father’s stomping grounds, no going back to a favorite haunt for lunch or dinner. We just arrived at my grandmother’s apartment, stayed there for the requisite hours and drove home in the dark.

Considering that we were kids, there were no concessions at my grandmother’s. There were no toys. No TV to watch. We were meant to sit in a dark living-room that smelled of mothballs and sit while the grown-ups talked. Once I remember my grandmother took me into her kitchen and said to me, “would Georgie like a cookie?” When I said yes, she gave me a plate with three or four Ritz crackers on it.

I also don’t remember my father showing me artifacts of his life. I never saw his room. Or pencil marks on a door jamb that showed how he and his brothers were growing.

One time, however, as we walked down the stairs from my grandmother’s second floor apartment to our station wagon parked across the street, my father had a thick, faded-red book underneath his arm. He handed it to me as we got to the car, figuring I could flip through it on the two-hour drive back to Yonkers.

The book was called “America. An Illustrated History.” It consisted of black and white etchings and later, photographs, of important events in American history, starting with Columbus in pantaloons planting a flag on Hispaniola (with quizzical, naked and not-yet-slaughtered Indians looking on) and ended with an iconic photograph of some sort--the Hindenburg in flames or Neville Chamberlain shaking Hitler’s hand having agreed to something involving Czechoslovakia. Beneath each picture were about 100 words of text that described the event shown.

In all, the book came in handy on the long car ride. There were pictures of each of the presidents up to FDR, which I tried to memorize as we breezed past rest stops. And there were interesting stories that they either didn’t teach us in school or they had glossed over insufficiently. One such story showed a picture of a forest in the background and in the foreground some well-armed English explorers puzzling over a lone clue carved into an oak tree. The caption read: “1586. The Disappearance of the Colony at Roanoke.” It went on to talk about how a colony had been established and three years later when British ships returned to the site, it was mysteriously gone and there were no traces of anyone’s whereabouts.

Also in the book, there was a relic of my father. Some thirty years earlier on the inside front cover, my father had written his name and the date on which he had received the book. I realized that my father had received the book when he was 13. It was probably a Bar Mitzvah present. And I noticed that my father had written out his full name with his middle name marked down as “Irwin.”

As long as I knew him, my father said his middle name was “Irving.” I looked out the window as we drove past the stink of the Jersey refineries, watching flames leaping out of smoke stacks as they burned off traces of escaping gas and I wondered during that long ride home what my father’s middle name really was, what was filled in on his birth certificate. I wondered about “Irwin.” I wondered if his middle name was really Roanoke.

Point, counterpoint.

Some weeks ago I talked about a kid, Joe Tartaglia, whom I played baseball with when I was in high school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Joe had a perfect swing. He made Ted Williams' look like a rusty gate but hell would issue ice cubes before Joe actually hit a ball.

Joe's swing is much like 99% of advertising.

Everyday I sit in meetings where work is presented that ticks all the boxes and follows all the strictures of best practices. Perhaps the work that most exemplifies this mania involves the discipline of interaction design. Everything links to where it's meant to. The logic is impeccable. The flow is flawless. You, the viewer, marvel at the perfection of the whole ball of wax. The interaction designer is praised. His wire frames tingle.

And I sit there and say, "OK, but. It's boring. There's no news in it. No promise is made to the viewer. I learn or get nothing."

I'm told to shut the fuck up.

Don't you see the "elegance" of it all. Hey, old-timer, they chide. Don't you get it?

What 99% of what we create in advertising is Wax Works. Angelina Jolie in Madame Tussaud's. It looks good. It's pretty. It may even have a little allure. But it's imitative. Hollow. And will melt if it's held up to the light.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

And so it goes.

Good advice.

No, really, what do you think?

One of the major changes in the world, and therefore in our business, has become what we may gently call "democratization." No longer do people trust "experts," like film or restaurant reviewers. We go to Rotten Tomatoes or Zagats for insight and reviews from our peers. At presidential town halls, we accept questions not from Pulitzer-winning journalists but from the lady down the street who has three kids, no job and a 1982 Buick.

The same thing has happened, unfortunately, in advertising to the detriment of the quality of the work and its cost. What I mean is that in agencies today it seems everyone gets a vote--from the junior ae to the technologist who makes type move. Discussions about work do not involve its efficacy so much as they are spasmodic gyrations and compromises on the road to consensus.

We have shifted, to put it simply, from "is it good" to "does everybody feel good about this."

This is neither good nor something to feel good about.

I know that with the relativism of the 60s came the decaying of absolutes. But I, for one, miss them. There's nothing wrong with eliciting thoughts from a lot of people from disparate backgrounds. But at least to me it makes sense to have a professional filter, process and sort those inputs and coalesce them into a point of view.

That, not making everyone feel "invested in the process" is the primary role of a leader.