Friday, August 30, 2013

Bad mood Friday.

The great drive in the industrial world over the past 100 years has been a drive for consistency. Colt's serial manufacturing, Ford's assembly line, McDonald's burgers have all thrived because they produce products that are the polar opposite of mercurial.

They are invariable.

In an effort to achieve invariability processes, checks and double checks have been instituted and formalized. Assumptions have been made that such-and-such configuration satisfies the largest percentage of the population at the lowest possible cost.

That's how business is done: consistent is more important than good.

We see this perhaps most overtly in the movie industry. They'd rather bet $300 million on "Spiderman72" starring Gilbert Gottfried than $3 million on something by Tony Kaye.

And  I think it's what's afflicted our business as well.

We have been consistencyized.

We are as bland as processed cheese food.

And that makes the most people happy at the lowest cost.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Uncle Slappy gets serious.

Amid the rain and humidity, Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie arrived last night. They're up for the Jewish holidays, which commence on Wednesday night with Rosh ha-Shanah and culminate ten days later with Yom Kippur.

They seemed a bit worse for wear and I took them directly from my foyer into our guest room in which our air-conditioning was running full-blast, cooling the place to a comfortable temperature. Seconds later Aunt Sylvie appeared in her old robe and slippers and shuffled toward the bathroom so she could take a nice shower.

Uncle Slappy led me to the kitchen where we sat at our breakfast table with a cup of hot, black coffee in front of each of us.

He began as he always does, with no introduction or preamble.

"You know, boychick, for 50 years I led High Holy Day services. 50 years I read from the Torah. 50 years I delivered sermons. 50 years I looked out on a sea of twice-a-year Jews and watched them trying to stay awake while I spoke."

He sipped at his coffee and began looking around the kitchen.

"You have maybe some Lorna Doones or a 'Nilla Wafer? A little sweet I need with my coffee at night."

I grabbed a small box of cookies from the top cabinet, put three on a small dessert plate and placed them in front of him.

"For 50 years, I delivered the sermons I was supposed to deliver.

"I never got to deliver the sermon I wanted to deliver. The sermon people would talk about. The sermon people would remember forever."

He was steaming ahead like a locomotive now. I couldn't have interrupted him with a taser.

"Fired, I probably would have been, if I did what I wanted. And serious I am."

Uncle Slappy took a breath and nibbled at his second cookie.

"I never had the chutzpah to do what I wanted. I wanted to stand at the bima in silence and for five minutes say not a word, not a word, not a word.

"Then I would walk to the front to the stage and for a minute more stand silently. Then I would just say one word. One word. I would say 'God.'"

"God," I echoed.

"God," he re-echoed.

"For the rest of the year, maybe for the rest of their lives, all those in the congregation would think about that strange sermon. That sermon like no other. That sermon that got the Rabbi fired.


He finished his cookies, drained his coffee, kissed me on the forehead and went to his bedroom to bed.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I have an Ad Trader.

I read another one of those articles yesterday--it was burning through various newsfeeds like a California wildfire--about the death of Advertising, this time at the hands of ad trading desks.

And then, minutes later, I saw a video of the head of a small tech-driven agency proclaiming that Google Glass will change marketing as we know it.

Death of.

This will change everything.

These asinine proclamations, of course, on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's seminal "I Have a Dream" speech.

I defy anyone to tell me that the power of words like these (the core of King's speech) will be obliterated by ad trading and whiz-bang glasses.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. 

This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi -- from every mountainside.

Let freedom ring. 

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring -- when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children -- black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Bullshit Jobs.

There’s an essay I happened upon in “The Economist,” that has fairly scared the shit out of me. It’s written by an anthropologist named David Graeber (and reprinted from “Strike!” magazine) and it’s called “On Bullshit Jobs.” Bullshit jobs

“The Economist” calls the essay “amusing.”

I think it’s anything but.

It starts this way: “In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshalled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It’s a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.”

Graeber is talking about Bullshit Jobs.

Much of our jobs included. We’re not producing food. Or anything for which the world hungers.

Yet the ruling class (yes, according to Graeber an avowed anarchist, there is a ruling class) believes too much leisure would imperil their control.

So, we are kept busy.

The repetitive tasks that used to be the province of assembly line workers are now done by us, managerial and administrative workers.

Yesterday I got an Excel doc from my client. I had asked for some quotations for an internal video I am creating for them. The document was 1,000 lines long. It had about 10,000 “cells” filled in.

I’ll stop this now. I have August timesheets to complete.

Topical couplet.

Miley Cyrus
Is like a virus.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The blues.

I had an 8AM client call this morning.

And, strangely enough, I got on the call a couple of minutes before 8. Which is more than you could say for almost everyone else. Including the so-called "leader."

The call finally began with the echo of little beeps around five minutes late. The beeps indicated that other callers were on the line.

We had all spent some minutes listening to the worst hold music ever created.

The same hold music we've all heard countless times over the past years.

If the Taliban or Al-Quaeda want to earn broad-based support in America, they'd crash a plane into the conference call company, carefully aiming for the music department. No one would mourn.

I know it's meaningless and trivial to complain about the banalities of modern business, and life in the agency orbit.

Right now I am listening to a collection called "101 Blues Essentials."

Those people had something to complain about.

Crops that don't grow.

Women that cheat.



And women that 'done left.'

Right now it's Monday morning.

My younger daughter is at home after 223 days at sea.

And I'm listening to hold music.

We all have our blues.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Back at the Tempus Fugit.

It's been a while since Whiskey and I went on one of our "night walks" to the Tempus Fugit, a bar that opened nearly 95 years ago as a speakeasy during Prohibition and hasn't closed since.

The Tempus Fugit sits mid-block on East 91st Street in an old industrial quarter that dates from the time that the Upper East Side was not the domain of upper-middle-class strivers, but of poor Irish and Germans and Italians who were just trying to get by without shoving up against the system. The Tempus Fugit occupies an old warehouse building that today houses hundreds of Verizon vehicles, including those undersized Conestoga-type wagons which are towed to job-sites and contain tools and other equipment needed to disrupt the service Verizon claims is so invariably reliable.

The Tempus Fugit lay furtively in the warehouse, through a half-dozen sets of industrial steel doors, up stairs and down stairs, down long and short hallways. And there it is. Dim in incandescence but bright in spirit and warmth.

I'm sure if the executives at Verizon knew of the Tempus Fugit's existence, they'd find some way to shut it down, but somehow the place has outlasted the Feds, the "revenuers," the "Drys," the FBI, the NYPD, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the New York City Health Department, the New York State Liquor Authority and probably two or three score other bureaucracies through the decades. My guess is when chips are placed underneath our skin and we can communicate telepathically, the Tempus Fugit will, too, outlast Verizon Incorporated, stock symbol VZ.

In fact, the Tempus Fugit is everything Verizon isn't.

Warm, real, reliable and unsullied by the crass and loud blandishments to buy buy buy. Not to mention bait and switch inducements to buy buy buy some more.

Whiskey and I arrived there about twenty minutes after Dame Insomnia woke me, gently, last night at around 2:45. Whiskey settled into her spot at the foot of my bar stool one in from the end. The bartender like a gazelle crossed with a hummingbird hopped around the bar with a small wooden bowl filled with water and placed it near Whiskey and then quicker than an 11:15 mass at a seaside resort, he was back behind the bar attending to my needs.

"Half a Pike's," I said pre-emptively. "I'm still not drinking. Recovering from a slight case of Hepatitis."

He drew me four ounces of Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) and slid my way a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I demurred as I always do and repeated for the umpteenth time my anti-legume mantra, "No thanks, a pound in every nut." And the bartender in one fluid motion like a Toscanini or a Bernstein, conducted the bowl to its perch on a shelf beneath the bar.

"You are feeling better, I presume."

"I am, as they say 'on the mend.'"

"Not a pleasant stroll, the walk through the valley of the shadow of death, is it?"

"I'd rather walk to my mother-in-law's in the pouring rain," I said. "And she lives in Jersey."

I sipped at my Pike's like it was Nyquil. I was not yet ready to enjoy the nectar.

Like the exemplary bartender he is, he noticed this and swapped out my Pike's for a cold glass of seltzer spritzed from his heavily carbonated spritzer.

"That's better," he answered.

"Just what the doctor ordered," I concurred.

"Staring down the barrel of age, of illness, of disappointment, dashed dreams and mortality is no picnic. 'A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember.'"

I recognized the quote from Bernstein's speech in "Citizen Kane."

"The girl in the white dress," I said.

"That's right. You know she comes in every night."

"I miss her," I answered.

He filled my seltzer, eschewing a citrus garnish as abundantly too trendy. He pulled out from under the bar a damp white terry and began polishing the already gleaming surface of the time-worn mahogany.

"We all miss her," he said. "We always have."

I nodded agreement and stood up to leave.

"Maybe next time I'm in she'll be here and I'll get to meet her."

"If you can meet her, it's someone else," he reminded me.

I got up to leave and offered him a ten for the seltzer.

"On me," he said.

Whiskey and I walked alone home.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tiny bubbles.

In my high-tech office, there sits on virtually every desk desk-phones that never ring, where the message light never lights, where the receiver never receives.

A dead technology.

On the hand-piece of the desk phones, someone some years ago placed a one-inch by three-inch sticker with a QR-code on it and the headline "Understanding the Bar Code."

A still-born technology.

In my files I have a multitude of lengthy powerpoint decks that propagate the need for brand to garner Facebook "Likes." Or a strategy for Google +. Or how to gamify or Groupon interactions with our brand.

More still-borns.

What all these were, like Tulips, South Seas real estate, property in Florida, California and Nevada, like tech stocks in 2000, like perhaps the Dow today at 15,000, are bubbles.

We as an industry chase after bubbles.

God forbid we should get someplace second.

We might not seem so very very cutting edge.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Politics and advertising.

Like the return of the locusts, it is once again election season in New York. We are voting for a new mayor in about three weeks and every evening our actual analogue mailboxes are crammed full of actual analogue paper mail from just about each of the eight or so candidates that care about us only when they want our vote.

Similarly, when we check our home answering machine we receive message after message soliciting our support and our vote.

What's more, often times when I walk to the bus stop in the morning there's a little conclave on the corner of 79th Street festooned with red, white and blue campaign signs. And there's a beaming candidate and some aides, once again asking for my vote.

It seems to me that all these circumstances have one thing in common. Someone is asking for something from me--they want my value--without giving me (or promising me) anything in return. The candidates, in other words, seek to take take take without giving anything in return.

These days, I think, a lot of agencies act like our political candidates. Rather than presenting work that does something for the clients and brands we are ostensibly working for, we present work that propagates the agency's agenda--work that shows how "hip" we are, how technologically "savvy," or how "smart."

You see this trend most overtly in awards shows when work that's never run or is in (permanent) "beta" garners gold, silver and bronze. Most often, I'll be blunt, this work is esoteric at best.

If it's print or TV, the message is often baroque or inscrutable and demands the amount of attention you might devote to observing Picasso's "Guernica." Not the split second normal people devote to ads.

If it's "digital," this work often demands a level of engagement that surpasses what most people spend with their significant others. i.e. take a photo, upload it, answer 37 questions and you'll get a read out of your favorite ice cream flavor.

In other words, we are propagating work that makes huge demands on viewers but gives little back to them. Work that pushes our agenda to the exclusion of the needs of the audience.

This tact is even more heinous than when clients do it. Because, mostly, we're supposed to know better.

Our work, let's make this simple, is supposed to help people.

It's supposed to organize, clarify, inform, amuse, reward.

We forget, all of us, that our audience is there to serve.

Not to use.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My heart. And my head.

I got some good news yesterday from my cardiologist.

My atrial fibrillation, my irregular heartbeat is no longer.

By that I mean I'm regular again.

Also my pneumonia is gone.

I haven't gotten my blood results but I'm assuming my liver readings (which align with Hepatitis) are back to normal.

In all, my meeting with the cardiologist couldn't have gone better.

Now the trick will be not once again getting in too deep at work.

Finding the emotional wherewithal to say "no."

Finding the strength to shut down.

And take care of myself.

Something I've never been very good at.

But I'm trying.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Change without progress.

Last night, though my wife and I had just flown in from the Caribbean, arriving in our apartment at six, we had dinner plans with my oldest friend, Fred, and his wife of 29 years, Celia.

Fred and I met when we were 13-year-old ninth-graders and before long, we became best friends. Though we come from dramatically different backgrounds—his dad was a New York City cop and mine was a New York City copywriter, and he’s black and I’m white, Fred and I have stayed friends for almost 43 years.

And when Fred was ambushed and laid low by cancer late last year, Fred and I despite our four-decades of closeness, became even closer. We became closer in that we talked about life and mortality and aging. We became closer because we were there together during the worst of times, as earlier we had been together during some of the best of times.

Last night my wife Laura and I met Fred and his wife Celia at a little restaurant in midtown. For perhaps the first time in my life the first half-hour of conversation was dedicated to things medical. The big question…how is the big C? How are you doing. i.e. are you going to live?

Fortunately, Fred seems to be doing fine.

Late in the evening, the talk turned to children. Fred has two boys just a bit younger than my two girls. Like my two girls, neither of Fred’s sons are ensnared by social media, but Fred’s oldest son, Michael “got into it” this summer as he was working an internship at a PR firm.

Somehow, from talking about social media, we began talking about hipsters. Neither Fred nor Celia, both of whom are lawyers knew what a hipster is. They live in suburban New Jersey. They’re lawyers. They just don’t run across hipsters in their day-to-day.

I tried to explain. In Yiddish, you could say I “fun-ferred” around. I couldn’t put my finger on a good definition or example.

And then it hit me.

A hipster is someone who believes in change without progress. Or, perhaps better, believes that change is progress.

When I think about advertising and the uses of social media and other forms of “digital marketing,” I can clearly see the enormous havoc they have wreaked on our industry and on the media industry in general.

But has anything gotten better?

Finding out information about a product is nearly impossible. Finding a differentiated brand is similarly slippery. Finding a brand you like (though purportedly you are having conversations with many of them) is as difficult as finding an independent bookstore.

Has “news” improved now that it is 24 hours?
Has “art” improved now that we have “millions of colors”?
Have movies improved now that everyone has studio capabilities?
Has advertising improved through crowd sourcing?

Sometimes I avoid the subway and eschew taxis and walk the nearly three miles from my office to my apartment. As I walk I remember.

An independent bookstore used to be there. A real Hungarian restaurant across the street. A genuine non-chain-store ice-cream parlor was on the corner.

They’re all gone now. Forced out by circumstances and more. Look, there’s a new nail salon. Another Starbucks, just one block from another Starbucks that’s just one block from another Starbucks. And chain stores.

There are forces behind this, of course. Globalization, for one. Changing tastes, etc. And I, like King Canute cannot hold back the tide. (Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina taught us that nothing can, though as a society we do nothing about global warming.)

But there is change that is progress.

And then there's our era today.

Change. Without progress.

A different perspective.

Is, as they say, worth 10 points of IQ.

This is by way of "New Yorker" writer George Packer in his important book, "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America." My guess is that "The Unwinding" will win this year's Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award. It is eminently worth reading and I heartily recommend it.

"The information age arrived on schedule, but without the utopia. Cars, trains and planes were not much better than they had been in 1973. The rising price of oil and food showed a complete failure to develop energy and agricultural technology. Computers didn't create enough jobs to sustain the middle class, didn't produce revolutionary improvements in manufacturing and productivity, didn't raise living standards across classes....Apple was mostly a design innovator. Twitter would give job security to five hundred people for the next decade...You have dizzying change where there's no progress."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A gift from Uncle Slappy.

Uncle Slappy came into my room early this morning as my wife and I were getting ready to head for the pool. He was carrying a small wrapped package and he somewhat abashedly handed it to me.

"For all you do for me and Aunt Sylvie," he said.

I tore open the wrapping paper and found a Villebrequin swimsuit inside. It was a light blue and had a grey turtle pattern. I immediately looked over at Uncle Slappy and noticed he was wearing a matching suit.

I never had much of a father, and Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie never had kids of their own, but I imagine this is the kind of thing fathers and sons do when the sons are about five or six. Not when they are fifty years older than that.

Nevertheless, you could have knocked me over with a feather. This gift, this matching turtle-print Villebrequin was the closing of a loop, the acknowledgement that Uncle Slappy plays a role in my life bigger than that my old man ever played.

"Villebrequin," I said, not knowing what to say. "That's a very fancy brand." I excused myself to change into my new trunks.

When I came out a minute later, Uncle Slappy was well-prepared to defuse any sentiment.

"These trunks," he said "remind me of the ballroom at Beth Elohim Synagogue on East 77th Street."

"There's no ballroom at Beth Elohim," I said. (I had attended many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs there.)

"Exactly what's wrong with these suits," Uncle Slappy said. "No ball room."

He was right. The suit was tight. And tight in the wrong places.

Nevertheless, we walked, the four of us, gingerly to the pool.


For the last three or four decades we have been living in the era of "globalization."

This is when big corporations come in, find the cheapest resources from around the world (including human resources) and use them to maximize profit while selling a product around the world.

It wasn't that long ago when there were local bookstores, hardware stores and grocery stores. Now they've all been replaced by globalized behemoths. Along with the process of annihilating local stores, they annihilate local economies. A globalized giant like Walmart sends 90-cents of every dollar it makes back to Bentonville, AR, leaving the local community with a handful of no-benefit, minimum wage jobs.

In short, money is also globalized. And the globalized giants have it. You need only see empty Main Streets all across America to see the effects of globalization.

Other effects might be more obvious. Big box hardware stores where sales "help" don't know what a hammer is for. Big box book stores where the staff can't read. Fast food restaurants where edible poison is sold and nutrition is a chimera.

This is our world today.

And it is happening in our industry too.

Now three holding companies control roughly three-quarters of ad jobs in the US. The drive to replace highly paid workers in New York, LA and SF with low-wage workers in China or Bangalore will accelerate.

At first, of course, cost savings might be passed on to clients. These savings will drive the last remaining competition out of business.

Then service will be reduced even further and costs will reverse themselves and go higher.

This is what happens when you're globalized.

And it's happening to us.

Here's a list of the top 25 agencies of 1992--about midway through globalization. I've crossed out the ones merged out of existence. All of the agencies on the list are now owned by one of the big three or one or another aspirants to the big three.

Agency Domestic 1992 Billings Change
1 Foote, Cone & Belding 2,288,469 +5.7%
2 Leo Burnett Co. 2,104,073 +3.1%
3 J. Walter Thompson 1,944,000(*) +10.9%
4 D'Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles 1,929,000(*) -1.7%
5 DDB Needham 1,910,721 -5.2%
6 Young & Rubicam 1,842,000(*) -0.6%
7 Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising 1,750,000(*) -0.7%
8 Grey Advertising 1,719,000 +5.9%
9 BBDO 1,634,768(*) +6.8%
10 McCann-Erickson 1,567,800(*) +12.0%
11 Ogilvy & Mather 1,545,000 +0.8%
12 CME KHBB 1,008,542 +3.4%
13 Backer Spielvogel Bates 976,029 -10.0%
14 Lintas:USA 920,000(*) +0.9%
15 Wells Rich Green BDDP 919,900 -0.4%

16 Ayer 855,300 +13.4%
17 Bozell 850,000 +9.1%

18 Chiat/Day 620,000(*) +9.2%
19 Ketchum 612,400(*) +1.3%
20 MVBMS/Euro RSCG 500,635 +23.4%
21 Earle Palmer Brown 408,840 -2.1%
22 Temerlin McClain 405,000(*) +15.7%
23 Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor 370,000 +5.7%
24 Tatham Euro RSCG 349,563 +7.7%
25 Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos 338,049 -5.4%

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gay kocken offen yam.

Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie arrived just at our villa just a couple of hours ago. We've rented a place with three bedrooms: one for us, of course; one for them; and one for my daughter should she care to stay with us when she's on break from work.

Aunt Sylvie is, as you might expect, "old skool" and she insisted on un-packing the very instant she arrived--putting everything neatly in drawers and hanging Uncle Slappy's loud floral shirts on the wooden hangers in the closet.

Uncle Slappy on the other hand is like a 12-year-old boy. He was in his swim trunks (also floral) before he had even slurped his "welcome drink," a mango-passionfruit concoction, dry.

He and I headed to the pool and jumped right in.

I have to hand it to the old man, especially in light of my own recent health problems, at 86, he still looks pretty good. He's strong in the water, too, and quickly did a few powerful strokes before stopping and doing what he does best--kibbitz with me.

"Let's walk to the ocean, Boychick," he said splashing me with the back of his right hand. "I live on the ocean but this is the Caribbean and I want to go to the ocean."

We walked the twenty or so feet from the pool to the ocean and Uncle Slappy and I were soon up to our necks in the brine.

"Gay kocken offen yam," the old man said in Yiddish. "Go shit in the ocean."

This is probably the most mild and the most useful of the thousands of Yiddish curses Uncle Slappy knows. It's really just a salty way of saying "go chase yourself," or "piss up a rope," or "take a long walk off a short pier," or "go bark up a tree," or anyone of the myriad ways to tell someone to "get lost."

"I have decided," the old man continued, "that the entire time I'm here, I will pee no place but the ocean."

I laughed.

"There's nothing like it. And frankly I'm not worried one iota about whether it's "sustainable" or not. I think if you go too long without pissing in the ocean, you become uncivilized."

I laughed again and conceded: "I see your point. But what about the middle of the night if you have to go?" I asked.

"I will sleep in my trunks and walk out through the patio door. Fortunately, we are close enough to hear the waves. Aunt Sylvie won't even miss me." He repeated "Gay kocken offen yam."

At this point Aunt Sylvie and my wife had strolled down to the beach and Uncle Slappy and I left the water to go for a walk with the girls.

The girls did most of the talking--that's fairly typical for the four of us. But every 20 yards or so, Uncle Slappy looked wistfully at the sea and said, quietly under his breath, "Gay kocken offen yam."


Before all my medical mishegas, I had scheduled eight days down in St. Martin. My daughter Hannah works down here in the summers, teaching scuba diving to privileged teen-agers.

We flew down here yesterday--an mild ordeal--and did what you do in the Caribbean. Wade in the pool, swim in the sea, and relax.

Hannah is out sailing with her teens and we likely won't see her until Thursday.

In the meantime, I hope NOT to work, to convalesce and to read.

I'll try to write.

But can't promise anything.

Friday, August 9, 2013


150 years ago, restaurants and hotels would advertise, usually in gleaming electric lights, that they were "electrified."

75 years ago, movie theaters would proudly proclaim that they were "air-cooled," and later "air-conditioned."

If you travel the exurbs--or more likely through America's inner sprawl--you can still see signs out in front of cheap hotels that advertise C O L O R  T V.

These were new and disruptive technologies and therefore provided early adopters with a leveragable business advantage. But of course, that leveragable business advantage quickly became commoditized. When everyone does it, you no longer have a selling point.

In short, being first is a business advantage.

But it's nothing more than a temporal one, unless you're always first.

Apple is dealing with this today.

Their previously un-wilted rose is looking a bit droopy these days.

As they say in Hollywood, "What have you done lately."

All that said, as a culture, we currently prize the latest blockbuster above all things.

New is considered better than good.

We prize innovation (no matter how spurious its efficacy) above intrinsic value. Everything, in other words, has become "fashionized." The latest is, by definition, the greatest.

Of course, this compulsive quest for newness introduces a 1950s concept to marketing communications. Our communications are created with obsolescence planned in. In other words, they're planned not to endure.

To my mind that's why approximately 90% of all agency hours are billed on creating things that are immaterial, esoteric, a distraction or a toy.

Very few focus on our real job. To communicate. To clarify. To make simple. To define, demonstrate and disseminate. Or in the words of Carl Ally: "To impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way."

We have as an industry lost our way.

In chasing nothing but new, we are chasing our tails.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Medical update.

My head still isn't together.

My body is still wracked with the various lingering effects of my recent battle with pneumonia, hepatitis and atrial fibrillation.

I haven't the energy I had three weeks ago, nor do I have the ability to concentrate.

I'm sad to say my illness is persisting. It outlasted its welcome weeks ago.

That said, I am getting stronger every day.

I'm able to do more.

Able to write.

Able to make a difference.

I've learned a bit through this ordeal.

Most important, I'm hoping when I'm fully recovered to try to put a lid on the amount of work I do. In the words of my preternaturally wise younger daughter, I'm going to "rest myself before I wreck myself."

I'll shut my computer down when I've had enough and shut my brain along with it.

That said, work is important to me. Like this blog.

I will continue to attempt to be good ad it. To be strong. To be a yeoman, a stalwart.

That is who I am.

And no fucking pneumonia is going to stop me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

TV is dead. (Pay no attention to the data.)

This weekend's "Barron's" had a cover story called "Don't Touch That Dial," that began this way: "Everyone from Nextflix and Google to Apple and Intel things the television industry looks ripe for the plucking. They're wrong."

While wool-hatted sophisticates are trumpeting their latest esoteric flash in the digital pan, the numbers say otherwise.

"Linear TV," according to Barron's "the traditional sort carried by cable and satellite providers," achieved record numbers this year. "In the U.S., advertisers bought a record $63 billion of TV time...and "cable and satellite took in $97 billion in subscription fees in 2012, or 44 times Netflix streaming revenue...All told, the TV ecosystem brought in a record $160 billion last year..."

(In comparison, according to "eMarketer" Digital spend in 2013 was $42 billion of which $4.4 billion was mobile spend. And surely most of that $42 billion was search.)

I guess about 150 years ago Mark Twain said, "there are lies, damn lies and statistics."

As usual, he had it right.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hiroshima, 1945 and 2013.

Sixty-eight years ago today, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.

Sixty-seven years ago, "The New Yorker," dedicated the entire editorial space of its August 31st issue to John Hersey's grand essay on the bombing.

I first read Hersey's book as a ninth grader.

I couldn't stand school but I loved the school library and would barricade myself therein and find a book and read it cover to cover. I did that one day with Hersey's "Hiroshima."

I'd be exaggerating to say it altered my life. But it did have an impact on me.

The clarity of the writing, the vividness of the images, the power of the tragedy and pain.

There's a lot of blather that continues to spew like the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico. There are people in high-places who declare things like "storytelling is dead." Ignoring the seminal human need--a need that has existed as long as humans have roamed this not-so-green-earth.

I don't buy it.

I am a believer that brands deliver order in crowded marketplaces and the best brands articulate a story and a definition of who they are, what they do, why they do it and why what they do is important.

Too many brands--indeed, entire categories of brands--fail to do so. They act as if their brand is all about a $129 fare or a $49-monthly deal or everyday low prices.

They stand for nothing. But compensate for their nothingness by spending hundreds of millions of dollars or even, in the case of telcos or automobile companies, billions.

In any event, here's John Hersey's opening paragraph from "Hiroshima."


AT exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, 
on August 6th, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment 
when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, 
Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel depart- 
ment at the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at 
her place in the plant office and was turning her head 
to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same 
moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down 
cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of 
his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven 
deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo 
Nakamura, a tailor's widow, stood by the window 
of her kitchen watching a neighbour tearing down his 
house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defence 
fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German 
priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear 
on a cot on the top floor of his order's three-storey 
mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der 
Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the 
surgical staff of the city's large, modern Red Cross 
Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors 
with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his 
hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tammoto, 
pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at 
the door of a rich man's house in Koi, the city's western 
suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of 
things he* had evacuated from town in fear of the 
massive B29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima 
to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the 
atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. 
They still wonder why they lived when so 
many others died. Each of them counts many small 
items of chance or volition -a step taken in time, a 
decision to go indoors, catching one street-car instead 
of the next that spared him. And now each knows 
that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw 
more death than he ever thought he would see. At the 
time none of them knew anything.