Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On boxing and advertising.

I am reading right now a bit of a divertissimo, the boxing writing of one of the 20th Century’s great writers, A.J. Liebling. If you have the slightest scintilla of interest in really fine writing, I suggest with great enthusiasm that you pick up and read his collection, “The Sweet Science.”

It hardly matters whether or not you care about boxing. Liebling’s voice is so secure, his eye for detail so adroit and his turn of a phrase so euphonious, that every page, yes, every page, brings joy and laughter. It’s often said, I have observed, by people when praising a book, ‘I couldn’t put it down.’ Liebling I have to put down often, in the same way you would need a moment of reflection after seeing Willie Mays patrol centerfield or Joe DiMaggio lash a double.

Much of “The Sweet Science” concerns the impact of a new medium—television—on the fight business in America. Fights were televised every Monday and Friday night—at the behest and via the dollars of brewers and razor blade companies. Consequently people stopped going to their neighborhood arena to see live pugilists battle. These club fights then dried up, and with them the opportunity for young, raw fighters to gain experience out of the limelight.

I wonder if a similar effect has been felt by our business. Young people have no time to learn their craft in out-of-the-way gyms. Today’s condensed timetables mean they can’t be nurtured like fighters were, by old hands. Things are too fast now. A day out of Miami Ad School, you’ve got banners due to the client.

In one of his essays Liebling quotes a ring denizen named Eddie Shevlin. Shevlin was a coach who—unorthodoxically-- had his charges spar dozens of rounds a day—four or five times more than the prevailing wisdom. Shevlin’s reason was simple “You never learn anything until you’re tired.”

I think there’s real wisdom in that.

I think in our business, like any other, it takes hour after hour, day after day, week after week of practice to finally figure out what you’re doing.

I think you need the tired-ness that derives from hard work, repetition, trial and error and, mostly, failing. You need the speed bag, the heavy bag, the medicine ball, the jump rope, the road work, the shadow, the being hit, the prelims, the bouts, the round-robins to develop.

It takes a lot of work to get yourself in the position to learn--to find yourself tired.


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I used to box. Which of course isn't the point. But I do think you have a point when you reason that stretching it to the point of exhaustion is perhaps the only way to really learn. It's only when you get beaten you know what doesn't work. If you know what doesn't work you get closer to know what actually works. In our industry today few knows what works. Despite more data than ever available. The problem is we don't know what exactly lead to success.

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