Wednesday, April 30, 2014

There's an old advertising joke about a woman who dies and goes before St. Peter because after 45 years of marriage, she's still a virgin.

"How is this possible?" St. Peter asks.

And the woman replies, "Well, my husband is in advertising. Every night he sits on the side of the bed and tells me how great it's going to be."

I think about this joke as we see the diminished presidency of the first hipster president, Barack Obama. He's a man who can make a brilliant speech but can't do the work of making things work.

He is the exact opposite (as a politician) to LBJ. An odious character who as president passed a series of laws that propelled half our nation from Jim Crow-serfdom to relative enlightenment. Perhaps one of the three or four great legislative accomplishments in the history of America.

Obama no longer presents even a vision. How will we, as a nation, be great. Make the world better. Solve problems.

The emptiness of his words have tarnished the credibility of his eloquence.

You can't blame republican captiousness for everything.

You find a way to make it work. Or embarrass the hell out of the obstructionists.

You make it work.

There's an agency--a popular and well-regarded new-age hipster agency--whose slogan is "it's gonna be awesome."

Enough of what it's gonna be. What is it?

Make something that works.

That moves people/product/sales.

Stop talking.

Start doing.

Politicians vs. Pietists.

If you read about the history of organized religion in the West, particularly the structure of the Holy See, you'll observe that you can break it down into two parts.

There is the Power of Politics.

And the Power of Piety.

The politicians, of course, are the ones who run things. The ones who made the Papacy and subordinate positions in the Church's management the same sort of Game of Thrones we see in television dramas.

The pietists were the true believers. Those ensconced in monasteries or risking life and limb to convert (or kill) pagans. Mostly, despite their belief, the pietists enriched the politicians.

The same dichotomy exists in agencies today.

The politicians politic and get rich. They run the holding companies and the agencies that feed them.

While the pietists labor in the hope of a glorious after-life. They create the work and believe in its power.

The politicians believe in money.

The pietists in pencils.

Who's better off?

Conformity, Part II.

I am reading a book right now that could get me killed on a good number of the college campuses in America.

It's called "How the West Won," and is by Baylor University professor Rodney Stark. You can find the book here.

Stark's basis thesis is simple.

And inflammatory.

Western thought is responsible for all progress in the world.

Not Islam.

Not China.

Not Africa.

Progress came only from the West.

This, of course, runs counter to all the prevailing wisdom of the last fifty or so years. And is considered about as politically correct as Donald Stirling on a bender.

But my point today is not to discuss the validity of Stark's arguments. I can't do that. I'm not a professional historian.

My point is about the importance of voices that shatter the unanimity of the echo chamber. That's the infrastructure of consensus that dictates what we as an industry say and do.

We posit and proclaim and propagate and you better get with the program or you'll be squashed.

It doesn't even matter if observed reality doesn't support perceived reality. If you ask someone to show you a 'conversation about a brand,' or a brand built by likes, you get nothing but double speak.

But facts don't matter.

Consensus does.

Three-quarters of a century ago in "A Night at the Opera," Groucho Marx asked "who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"

Our industry has answered that question.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


When I was about 11 or 12 years old, there was a girl in my 7th-grade class, Mary-Ellen DeLuca, who got sent home from school because she was wearing pants.

That was against the rules. 

Girls wore dresses.

A year after, or maybe it was just a few months, everyone had switched over from dresses for girls and trousers for boys to blue-jeans for everyone.

We rebelled against the conformity of 1950s-style dress by adopting the conformity of Levi's.

We adopted to the conformity of non-conformity in dress, in music, in drugs and rebellion.

I remember jokingly calling jeans the clothes everyone wears to be different.

My point is simple.

We are like ants or sheep.

We move along with the crowd.

We proudly proclaim "think different," but only if someone else thought different first.

We imitate innovation and think that makes us innovative.

Awards shows are really, it seems to me, conformity yardsticks.

How much does your work conform to what's cool today?

Years and years ago, the One Club in New York (this is when they were located in a brownstone on East 51st Street) had an exhibit of the junior portfolios of notables in the business--people who had made it big, who were hot.

I remember looking at the books and seeing their ads and saying to myself, "Oh, I see how they're work is a degree or two or three better than mine."

Then I got to Patrick Kelly's book.

Patrick Kelly had just won about a dozen gold pencils for his Federal Express work with Mike Tesch, including 'Fast Talking Man.'

His book was nothing but scribbles on ripped and oddly-shaped shards torn from a brown-paper bag. Every line was scintillating. Every idea was different.

Even among the best, there is often a sameness.

There is comfort in sameness. Agencies thrive on orthodoxy.

I guess statisticians call this 'regression to the mean.'

But no good comes from drinking kool-aid.

Unless you're advertising kool-aid.
BTW, here's a link to Tom Messner's tribute on Patrick Kelly on his induction into the One Club Hall of Fame. Kelly/Messner Tribute

Monday, April 28, 2014

The customer, once again, in control.

The customer is in control, we are told, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The latest, as far as I'm concerned, comes from the National Basketball Association and the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Stirling. Stirling is worth an estimated $1.9 billion and has paid Federal fines for housing discrimination though he's admitted no wrong-doing. (No, I pay fines for the hell of it, not because I did something illegal.)

Stirling made stunningly racist remarks about African-Americans and as yet hasn't received even a slap on the hand. Fans (those ostensibly in control) didn't stay away from the game either at the arena or on TV. Fans of the NBA didn't boycott the league for allowing Stirling to be a part of it. Even the league's millionaire players and coaches acted fecklessly.

Clippers players wore their warmup jerseys inside out. They didn't refuse to work. They didn't sit out the game. They did nothing to say, "this will not stand."

If they stayed on the bench, would they have forfeited a game they lost anyway? Would their opponents have sat out as well in a show of solidarity?

No, instead they turned their jerseys inside out. And viewers in effect endorsed Stirling's racism by watching the game--the game's advertising revenue only adding to Stirling's riches.

If this the best we can do, are we really in control?

No, we are sodden with the need to be entertained. We can't even shut off the set. We won't say something as simple as "I won't support a league that allows this."

Maybe Stirling is innocent. Nothing's been proven, so maybe this entire post is premature. Maybe the National Basketball Association will find an action to take that is truly punishing to Stirling. Though I personally believe it is probably hard to punish an 80-year-old with almost $2 billion.

But if the customer is in control, let us do something. Where is the power we are supposed to have?

Honey, will you get me a beer?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Conversations about brands. A Primer.

There was a flap over the last three or four days over the New York Police Department and their Twitter account. They thought, misguidedly, that they'd receive some sort of Rockwellian or O'Henry-esq warmth. The kind-hearted cop, the grateful public. That sort of bushwa.

What they got were intimations of Praetorian authoritarianism. Cops as bullies. As oppressors. As the uniformed bludgeon of New York's bloated plutocratic classes.

There are three types of brands in the world and only one of them should use Twitter or any social media for that matter. (I've gone through this before, but no one seems to be listening.)

1. There are BRAVES. These are brands people positively rave about. Brand + rave = Brave. Braves are brands like Apple or Virgin or Samsung or Shake Shack that, for whatever reason, people love. These brands aren't loved because of social media, but affection and praise for them is often expressed in social media. These are the only potential brands that people would ever have a conversation about. There are about six Braves in our universe.

2. There are BLANDS. Brands no one really cares about. Brand + blah = Bland. These are the great lumpen of brands, the majority of the crap in our shopping carts. Ziploc. Air freshener. Buicks. A junior senator from Nebraska. I'm hard-pressed, no matter how good your social media strategy, to believe that people will really spend their valuable time and energy on these brands. They don't bubble up to the surface. They're there, but who cares.

3. Finally, there are BRANTS. The NYPD falls into this category. Brand + rant = Brant. These are the brands that piss people off, that use users and are often perceived as misusing them. Airlines. Telcos. Cable "providers." People expect these types of brands to be reliable--a holdover from the Ma Bell-utility era, or the airline industry before it was de-regulated. No one in the history of humankind has ever said anything positive about their cable company.

Before you burn countless hours and stultify yourself through countless decks, determine if you're a BRAVE, BLAND or BRANT.

Then decide if people will talk about you. And if they do, if they'll say anything good.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Advertisements for myself. Part 2.

I know how to work with CEOs and CMOs.
I’ve done it for decades.
For major clients that I won't name here.

I how to take a short burst of C-level time, and find what’s important--
what’s at the core of their marketing needs.
I know how to take their vision and translate it to action.

To do this, here’s what you do.
You develop big ears:
You hear one word and understand two.

You get to know their business.
Their marketplace.
Their employees.
And their customers.

Then, you come through with the right work.
You over-deliver.
Before long, you’ve built trust.

That’s how you get the best work.
And build the strongest relationships.
And how you create work that works for the C’s.

While moving both companies and people.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"El Gigante y El Ciego." (The Fat and the Blind.)

Back in 1975 when I signed on to man the esquina caliente (hot corner) for the Saraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican League, the team was made up of a bunch of cast-offs and oddballs.

I had chosen to try out for the Saraperos for exactly that reason. They were new to the Mexican League, having joined it in 1972 and they were perennial cellar-dwellers. I figured of all the teams in the league, I would have the best chance of playing with the Saraperos.

Back a century or more ago, a centerfielder named William Ellsworth Hoy played for the Washington Nationals and the Cincinnati Reds among other teams. In 14 years in the big leagues, Hoy amassed more than 2,000 hits.

He also carried the nickname “Dummy.” He was stone-deaf, having contracted meningitis at the age of three.

The Saraperos had no deaf players back in 1975, but our starting catcher, Luis “El Gigante” Mantequilla was partially blind in his left eye.

Mantequilla’s blindness was of the baffling sort. The way I understood it, his vision was a bit like the vertical hold on an old television set. There were times you could adjust and adjust and the picture would keep flipping. And other times, inexplicably, when the picture would be just right.

In other words, there were times when El Gigante could see out of his left eye, and times when he could see nothing at all.

But when he could see, watch out! He stood only 5’6” but weighed well in excess of 350 lbs. And he had the strength of ten men. When the bus in which we traveled to games had a flat, more often than not, El Gigante would lift one end while the tire was being changed.

And when Mantequilla could see (which happened without notice about once every four or five games) he could larrup the pill into the next county, or even the country after that.

One afternoon, we were playing the Pericos de Puebla, the Puebla Parrots, when El Gigante dug in at the plate. The pitch came—a tirabuzon (screwball) and it bent so sharply that the plodding Gigante couldn’t dodge it. It hit him square in the right eye.

The big man tried to shake off the pain, he tried to continue playing, but in short order our Manager, Hector Quesadilla ran out to home and yanked him from the game. El Gigante was now blind in both eyes.

The next day, however, in a double-header, a doble juego, against the Tabasco Olmecs, Mantequilla was back in the line-up as usual, overcoming the admonishments of Quesadilla to take a day off.

“Estoy bien,” Gigante said. “Estoy bien.”

Strange as it seems, Mantequilla was indeed “bien.” Though he was blind now in both eyes, inexplicably he was hitting like never before. Whereas for months his batting average was below the storied “Mendoza Line,” (The Mendoza Line is an expression of batting incompetence based on the exploits of shortstop Mario Mendoza) now the fat man was blasting the ball.

His average climbed like the temperature of Hell in August, until it finally settled in and held at the improbable height of .477. With power.

 Before long, his nickname “El Gigante,” was replaced by “El Ciego,” the blind.

It doesn’t matter what league you play in, and it doesn’t matter if your physique makes the Michelin man look svelte, if you’re hitting .477 with 54 homers with one-third of the season left, major league scouts will flock to you like frat boys to flat beer. The scouts came in droves. They came brandishing contracts. They came will all sorts of mammon, from Lucullan feasts to ample temptations of the flesh.

“Estoy bien,” was all El Ciego would mutter. “Me quedo aqui.” I am fine. I stay here.

The scouts took a hint. They gave up recruiting Mantequilla. And it’s a good thing they did too. Because after they left, the lucky/unlucky batsman got hit once again in the noggin. And just as inexplicably, this blow restored his vision, 20/20, to both eyes.

Now that he could see, he could no longer bat. His batting average plummeted like a runaway elevator.

At the end of the season, when I hung up my spikes, El Ciego/El Gigante/Luis Mantequilla hung up his.

The world doesn’t need another fat .220-hitting catcher. 

No matter how good his vision.

Advertisements for Myself. Part the First.

We all get them:
The assignments no one wants.
They’re complicated.
They’re for something ugly.
Or they come in at 4PM and they’re due at 10AM.
Or they’re long and political and as such could eat you alive for months.

I do assignments like that.
Hard assignments.
In fact, I actually revel in them.

I can handle them and make them good,
because, frankly, I’m too stubborn to be defeated by them.
No matter what they throw at me, I’m going keep coming back with something good.
I’ll see it through.
Make it happen.

Try me.
My name is George Tannenbaum and I approved this message.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Judge not.

Apropos of nothing, my friend from blogging, the surpassing Dave Trott, sent me a quotation the other day. It's been knocking around my cranium for the past 72 hours or so.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; ...if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

Years ago I was reading something about WW2 and I noticed that at least among US Armed Forces, the ratio of enlisted soldiers to officers during the war was about 10:1.

Today, that ratio is 5:1.

In other words, proportionally there are twice as many officers today as were needed to win the greatest armed-struggle in the history of the world.

I suspect the same "officer-creep" has happened in advertising. Watchers/commenters have replaced doers. Committees of Gurus discuss work without having the ability to actually do work.

Accordingly, the empathy for those whose face is "marred by dust and sweat and blood" has diminished. Those "cold and timid" who sit in judgment are unwilling to walk a mile in your shoes. Actually, they want you to walk a mile. Just so you're far away from them.

I've never been in the Armed Forces and really, I mean no disrespect to anyone. But life, no matter what you do, is not a spectator sport.

Virtual reality will never replace the real thing.

Theoretical ads will never do the work of ads that actually run.

Judge not.

Bad mood Tuesday.

I write a lot in this space about the over-blown proclamations spouted by various branches digital advertising. As far as I can fathom, I've never willingly clicked on an ad on Facebook or Linked In, never responded to a sponsored post, never reacted to a tweet, or viewed a frame of syndicated content and never once witnessed or participated in a 'conversation about a brand.'

That said, I suppose I've been giving mass media a free ride. I haven't excoriated it the same way I've disparaged digital work.

It seems to me that :30-second spots can proceed one of two ways. They can be so entertaining that they make you feel good about the brand or about your relationship with the brand. Or they can impart useful information that prompts you to act.

Most spots I see do neither of these. They aren't entertaining enough to be entertaining. And they aren't informative enough to be informative.

They fall somewhere in the middle. 

They are either a stand-up comedian with bad jokes.

Or a college lecturer with no notes.

Painful. Or empty.

Last night, I suppose wallowing in this thought, I happened upon another type of advertising failure: the 'help wanted' ads on the site "Working, Not Working."

These ads try hard to be hip, funny and au courant. But they fail. They fail in every fiber of every phoneme.

Here's just a bit of the poison I read. If you're this tone-deaf in advertisements for yourself, what hope do we have that you'd produce astute work for others?

"We know what you’re wondering…is this one of those job posts where XXXXXXXXX is looking for a Copywriter/Art Director dynamic duo in theirNew York office where everyone is a part-time magician and some of them have blue hair? Yes, yes it is."

Here’s the deal: XXXXXXXXX is looking for an experienced Senior team to take all this unicorn hair and turn it into magical site/content designs in our New York office. Yup, unicorn hair. 


We know what you’re wondering…is this one of those job posts where XXXXXXXXX is looking for a Senior Copywriter in their New York City office where everyone is eccentric and some of them wear Warby Parker glasses? Yes, yes it is.