Friday, October 31, 2014

Not obsolete.

Halloween in the Tempus Fugit.

My wife, who just on Tuesday had her hip bionically replaced, returned home from the hospital yesterday afternoon. Though I consider myself a decent person and a more than moderate husband, I'll admit, I am not the most solicitous of people. I'd rather be waited on than wait on. Alas, now, I have no choice. Though my wife is no termagant, I am fairly at her whim and caprice.

Naturally amid all this turmoil, insomnia chose that very moment to strike. So, at approximately 2:47 in the morning, Whiskey and I made our way through the city to the invitingly dim incandescence of the Tempus Fugit.

"Did I ever tell you," the bartender began, as usual, without any pre-mumble or salutation. "Did I ever tell you of the haunt that haunts these latitudes?" He swung gingerly around the bar and placed a small wooden bowl of cold water in front of Whiskey. Then, back behind the mahogany, he pulled me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) filling the requisite six-ounce juice glass.

"Haunts," I said, with my typical sagacity.

Violet Klotz, 1903-1930. Photo taken shortly before her murder.
"Haunts," he repeated. "Haunts that to me, resemble one Violet Klotz, the hatcheck girl in 1930 when the Tempus Fugit was still a speakeasy."

"A hatcheck girl. The place had class, huh?"

Ignoring my feint at cynicism, he continued on his way.
Hymie "Iambic" Goldstein. An artist's rendering by Patrick Hamou.

"Klotz was a looker, and the inamorata of one Hymie "Iambic" Goldstein. Goldstein was one of the roughest muggs in the Jewish mob."

"Iambic?" I asked.

"He spoke, believe it or not, Hymie did, in perfect iambic pentameter. It was the most uncanny thing I ever saw."

"Short syllable then long syllable. Uncanny to say the least."

"Iambic made fortune for the mob, stealing cars and losing them. The gang would collect $100 insurance per, and Iambic would make $10 of that. Things went along fine until he got too clever by half."

"A stressed syllable that should have remained unstressed," I added.

"You could say that. Iambic, instead of ditching those cars, he brought them to a junk dealer. Together they stripped the cars and Iambic made another $10 bucks."

"You can't blame him," I offered, "it was the Depression. Who didn't need the extra scratch."

"Well the mob didn't see it that way. They pushed Iambic off the roof of a 17 story building."

He pulled me another amber and offered me a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. As always, I dismissed the goobers and drained the suds.

"Violet was checking coats when the boys that pushed Iambic came in. They were feeling good and laughing. One guy--I can't remember his name--kept repeating 'He got metrical feet, but he ain't got no wings.'"

"Quite a mouthful," I said, starting on Pike's number three.

"Violet got wise. She realized Iambic was no more and she pulled a small pearl-handled on the guys who offed her man. They beat Violet to the draw and gunned her down right over there, next to where there was a signed photo from Gene Tunney wishing me all the best. It was a veritable fusillade that did Violet in."
Gene Tunney, World Heavyweight Champion, 1926-1928.

"Wow," I said. "So now she haunts the place."

"She died amid the chinchillas and minks. And comes back every Halloween looking for Iambic. The holes in her corpus whistling in the wind."

"Grisly," I said getting up to leave. I slipped the leash on Whiskey and slid two twenties across the bar.

He pushed them back my way. "Happy All Hallow's Eve to you, says I."

All in perfect iambic pentameter.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered: "Fraud!"

One time, not long ago, I produced for a vaunted client a large series of banner ads. I dutifully sat through numerous media meetings where the ticket-takers jabbered on about how targeted our buy was going to be. They would reach people 45+ with a household income of $150K+.

About three minutes later, a work colleague called me. He had noticed one of my ads on a site called something like "Bug Frenzy." I think it featured cockroach races or something similarly rarefied.

Today, the major news in the ad industry is a report that says Kraft--one of online's top 100 advertisers--is rejecting between 75% and 85% of digital ad impressions due to quality concerns. You can read Ad Age's report here.

If you're too too to read the article, this graphic tells you much of what you need to know.
Over-blown-ness has been a part of the online world since the first binary biped uttered the first proclamation of "This will change everything."

The online ad industry is a bit like the vast strip of auto-repair bodegas out in College Point, Queens. Each shop will rip you off in different ways. Not only will they not fix your car, they'll take what is working from you.

Yet, advertising agencies keep selling such fraud.

I happen to have the soul of an historian. 

Perhaps regulation in America reached its pinnacle during the Johnson or Nixon administrations. Certainly since Reagan, regulatory power has been decimated. My two cents say it's why everything sucks.

It's why you can't make sense of your phone bill. It's why air travel blows. It's why people like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch have more votes than you.

The online industry needs regulation.

Left to its own devices, it's a sham.

And a shame.

The joys of lack of candor.

As a freelancer, I get a lot of calls that lead me down the garden path. They say, you'd be perfect for such and such and we're putting you on hold. We'll let you know by the end of the day.

Of course, the end of the day comes and goes and by morning, I give up being patient and send an email. In short order, I often find an email back with some sort of bs apology. "We decided to move in a different direction," they say.

I know enough to know that this is part of the game. And I get too much work as it is, so I don't take these set-backs personally.

But what I do do is keep my eyes tuned in to the TV to see what such and such agency's different direction is.

Over the past couple of days I saw some spots that are so reprehensibly bad as to almost make me gag. They're for a financial services firm and are all joke and no substance. Exactly the equation I'm looking for when I invest my money. After all, if your stock-broker isn't funny, well, why bother. I mean, really, comedy is what I want from financial advice.

In any event, I have a policy when I'm asked about such horrid work. When someone says, "what did you think or our new spots."

I do something uncharacteristic. I bite my lip, keep my feelings to myself and mumble, "Well, it's not what I would have done."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Political ads.

Our Industry, capital I, seems to be doing its best to diminish and marginalize itself.

Every night on TV we are barraged with scurrilous political ads, almost always 30-seconds in length, almost always the basest kind of attacks, ad hominem and otherwise.

These ads--unlike the ones we create for sugar water and the like, are not subject to network clearance. They aren't bound by even the loosest definition of truth. They are a blight not only on our airwaves but they pollute the already rotten image my Americans have of advertising.

The operative word here is money.

The networks are making hand over fist from these ads. And they don't want to kill the goose laying all those golden eggs.

It's wrong.

Advertising should have standards.

And these have none.

Advertising should impart truth.

And these do the opposite.

It seems to me about every two months, at some lavish place in Cannes, or the Biltmore in Phoenix, or the Greenbrier down in West Virginia, advertising scions in loud plaids, drink, canoodle and post selfies of drinking and canoodling. Then they give themselves lifetime achievement awards.

They have abdicated their responsibility to us folks. The ones trying to make a living in the industry.

Someone needs to speak up.

I'm all for political ads. But they must be backed by facts. They must be network cleared. They must say who paid for them. And they should probably be longer than 30-seconds.

It's sad.

We work in a leaderless industry.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New York advertising.

I'll admit.

I'm out of step with most advertising award shows.

When I judge, I don't go along with the opinions of most others.

I don't go for the 27-seconds of beautiful imagery followed by a non-descript tag and a logo.

I really want ads that are about the product.

Heresy, I know.

Too many ads, imho, could be for anything or anyone.

I suppose we have "parity" products we might as well have parity ads.

I've never believed that.

I've always busted my ass to find a fact or a truth that only the brand I'm advertising can say.

I've been excoriated for having these out-moded beliefs.

But that's ok. 

I have to do what I think is right and let the chips fall where the cookies are.

On my way home today I saw this truck. I particularly liked the line "Pumps that Pump."


That's telling it like it is. It's New York advertising. Tough, persuasive and no-nonsense.

ExxonMobil is the world's largest corporation with $491 billion in sales and a market cap of $438 billion. Their tagline is some insipid affair like "fueling life's journeys."

Gag me with a leaky tanker.

Say something unique.

Have an attitude.

Have some balls.

Time and tide.

For the past two years my wife, who was once one of the top female runners in New York, has suffered with a debilitating deterioration of her left hip. Today, this morning, we are at the Hospital for Special Surgery where, though the miracle that is sometimes modern medicine, it will be replaced by a high-tech contraption that will, in all likelihood, be better than the Original Design.

It's tough going through something like this. As my ex-boss used to say, you're staring down the barrel of old age.

As regular readers of this space know, I've had my own flirtations with mortality, culminating last summer in pneumonia, a car crash and pericarditis. Later on in the year, I took a tumble in a dog playground, breaking my Ozymandias-like fall with my outstretched arm. That resulted in a torn rotator-cuff, which still visits me with pain. Especially on days when I'm scheduled to pitch.

All these ailments suck.

But they're part of life, they're part of growing old.

I have legions of friends in their 30s and 40s and I'm sure these woes--which are normal and natural--seem as alien to them as black-and-white television or a rotary phone. That will never, that could never happen to me. That's the kind of thing that happens to ack ack ack my parents.

Well, I've got news for you, Bucko.

Judging by the subway-like hordes of middle-aged people in the waiting room this morning, my wife's woes, and my own, are by no means unusual. (What's unusual is actually having insurance to pay for it.)

When the advertising industry exploded in the 60s, the median age in the US was 28. Today it is pushing 40. We are getting older as a population. That's a statistical fact.

When I watch TV at night it seems like every commercial features some kid who does a series of standing back flips or one who breaks out into spontaneous gregarious dance.

This is not the way the world looks except for perhaps a few square blocks in Williamsbeard.

As they say, growing old sucks. But it beats the alternative.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy creative direction.

There are at least two or three different types of creative directors you can face in our business. And I suppose what distinguishes these types is their amount of hands-on-ness.

Some, and there's not really anything wrong with this, get right in there with you. They thrash out every word, collaborate over every color, they sweat every detail with you.

Others are more diffident. They work under the assumption that they hired you, or you were hired for a reason, and they leave you pretty-much alone to do your work the way you do it. They're there for important reasons even though they're not in the trenches with you. They make sure you don't go "native," that you aren't just a mouthpiece for the client.

They're also, and I think most important, there to make sure your level of ambition stays elevated. That you keep doing work that isn't merely good under the circumstances but is good, period.

I happen to like the technique of a creative director I'm now working for.

He combines elements of the two methods I described above. He'll push and push and challenge you along the way. But you never cede your work to him. It's yours.

And he's ok with it.

Ok that is if you answer one question to his satisfaction.

Before client meetings he'll ask you, "are you happy?"

If you're not, the meeting is cancelled or you're working all night making yourself happy.

I think the "Are you happy" scheme is a pretty smart way to run a business.

Creatives are hard on themselves and are notoriously hard to please. If they're happy with the work, chances are it will work for the client, for the agency, for the people involved.

I think it's a pretty good way of moving forward.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wallowing with Bernbach.

One of the odd things that seems to have happened in our industry since it reached its apotheosis during the "Bernbach Era," is that we've walked, and in some cases run away from everything that we should have learned and inculcated from Bernbach.

Bernbach and his legions created product ads that connected both rationally and emotionally. More often than not every frame of the TV spot or ever visual in the print ad featured only the product. Today it seems most every ad is an ad for the category. The new Beats headphone ads are a perfect example of this. I'm supposed to buy beats because a well-muscled superstar does? Really?

Further, Bernbach avoided decoration in his ads. Today, all we do is decorate. We add scrumptious eye-candy and fancy filigree. No one ever bought anything thanks to post-effects.

Along with avoiding decoration came truth and honesty. Usually a hard dollop of information that clarified things for me, the viewer. Read an old Volkswagen ad and you'll see what I mean. Bernbach also talked to his viewers as if he were talking to his friends and neighbors. Today ads seem to present most people as morons or, worse, buffoons.

Finally comes the way we work.

I actually think Bernbach's early insight to pair art-directors and copywriters is being ignored. It seems, despite our embrace of workspaces that allegedly promote collaboration and openness, we seem more divided and apart than ever.

Maybe I'm just in a shitty mood. Perhaps I'm nostalgically wallowing in a past that's gone forever.

But I think we are ignoring the truth of what we all know.

And it saddens me.

BTW, the commercial above was done at Carl Ally, not Doyle Dane Bernbach.
But I love it. And it illustrates my points.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chester Himes and the client.

Decades ago, probably when I was knee-high to a knee, I saw the movie "Cotton Comes to Harlem." It was--slightly predating the sub-genre of Blaxpoitation--one of the few movies of my youth written, directed and acted by, predominately, black people.

I loved the movie.

It gave me a crazy view of the Harlem we only ever drove through or trained through on our way to whiter locales.

I loved Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, the heroes of the movie. I loved the writing by Chester Himes and I was pleased to discover that "Cotton Comes to Harlem" was one of nine Harlem detective novels written by Himes.

It took me some years, but eventually I read them all. I'm a better writer for having done so.

In any event I was thinking of Himes today--New York can be pretty noir in the rain, especially if you have some Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins playing on your iPod. But I was thinking of Himes because over the past few days I've had a couple of long phone calls with some private clients who are frustrating me.

They're control freaks. But they're disorganized.

In my mind, you should pick one. If you're a control freak, be organized. Or if you're disorganized, let go.

These clients, well, they made me think of the Chester Himes title shown above.

A blind man. With a pistol.

The storm in New York.

It's raining buckets in New York this morning. Raining Katz and Schwartz, as Uncle Slappy would say. Usually this time of year a mighty Nor'easter settles over the city. It marks the end of summer, really, much more emphatically than Raymour and Flanagan's "Rake in the Savings Fall Sale."

The storm comes with gusty winds that knock the remaining leaves off the remaining trees. There's not a garbage pail in sight that's not festooned with a cheap broken inside-out umbrella. People are sealed against the wet like ebola health workers, except for the still clueless hipsters who persist denying the elements and haven't changed out of their flip-flops and shorts.

The rain will continue, the radars and the news-readers tell us, through tomorrow. Then the storm will head out to sea and wither like a deflated birthday balloon a week past the birthday.

I've had a Nor'easter settle over me, as well.

The strain and stress of freelancing has saddened me.

I need something less transient and more fulfilling.

But like we do in a storm, we bundle up.

We snap our top button even if it pinches the folds in our necks.

We lace up our boots.

And we weather it.

We'll weather this, too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Me and Timothy Leary.

One thing that I've come to notice over the past couple of years is that everyone seems busy sending messages.

Is there a working person in America who doesn't complain about the quantity of emails she gets? Is there an elevator, escalator, subway stairway, crowded sidewalk anywhere that's not encumbered by people with epileptic thumbs typing out some message to someone that obviously couldn't wait.

If everyone is so busy sending messages, when do we get time to read them? If everyone has so much to say, when do we have time to listen?

I would imagine if you were a farmer 100 years ago, or a tailor like my father's father, or a grave-stone engraver like my mother's father, you spent a lot of your day inside your head. You were focused on the task at hand. Other people were hard to come by. And you had a certain amount of stones you had to cut or seams you had to sew.

That is, I think we have lost the time to think about things.

That's certainly true in most agencies. Where nervous "tissue sessions" follow haphazard briefings some times by as few as a couple hours.

There's no time for thinking.
No time for doing, either.
We're too busy blabbing.
And responding to others' blabs.

Back in 1967, Timothy Leary advised us to "Turn on, Tune in, Drop out." It's not advice would repeat for today's world.

I think we'd be better off saying: "Turn off, Slow down, Think."

Bad service.

ME:                            I'd like six ounces of whitefish salad
THEM:                       Six pounds?
ME:                            No, six ounces.
THEM:                       Six ounces of egg salad.
ME:                            Whitefish salad.
THEM:                       Six pounds of whitefish salad.
ME:                            Six ounces.
THEM:                       Egg salad?

I had just a few minutes between meeting—even life as a freelancer can be enervating—and I ran down University to 9th Street to a little bagel place I frequent. The “dialogue” I had with the counterman (pasted above) really sent me into a tizzy.

I guess my tizzy—whatever a tizzy izzy—began Sunday night. My wife was trying to get Verizon to fix a $600 mistake they made in our bill. As a consequence she spent two hours of a beautiful Sunday on the phone with the phone company.

Later that same Sunday, I had to spend some time on the phone with another oligopoly—Time-Warner—trying to get them to repair, once again, our internet connection which seems to go out with more regularity than it’s on.

These three “conversations with brands” got me thinking. What is the cost we as consumers have to pay for really bad service?

To be honest, I’d pay a dollar more for my whitefish salad to have it prepared properly by someone who thanked me and who remembered to put utensils in my bag. I’d pay more for cable and phone if they guaranteed me the help I need when I need it. But, it seems, virtually every company we deal with thinks the only sort of customer service we as consumers want is that provided by low-wage workers who have only nominal mastery of English. You think I’m lying? We all pay double for Apple products, just so we can get the help we need when we need it.

Further, our national customer-service malaise got me thinking about our industry. After all, advertising, like telcos, cable companies and bagel shops seem dedicated to driving costs out of their system. We put low-wage workers (we’re all low-wage workers today) in front of clients. Our clients find we’re like the countermen at my bagel shop. We’re not polite, we don’t listen and we don’t answer their problems.

CLIENT:                     We need to sell 50,000 widgets by August 1.
AGENCY:                   We'll do something really cool.
CLIENT:                     50,000 widgets in three months.
AGENCY:                   We'll make it go viral.
CLIENT:                     That's double our current sales.
AGENCY:                   It'll win all sorts of awards.
CLIENT:                     50,000 widgets
AGENCY:                   Egg salad?

The killer app when you get down to it--for retailers, for people, for ad agencies might be some things that are fairly simple.

Listening. Courtesy. Honesty. 

And the trust that comes from establishing those attributes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Letting go.

My wife and I have begun the long process of thinking about downsizing our apartment. Our kids have flown the coop, and more likely than not, will return to their New York City bedrooms no more than twice or three times a year. Ergo, we no longer need the three bedrooms we bought 16 years ago.

Last weekend, we looked at two fairly appropriate apartments. Each was some hundreds of square feet smaller than our current space, but compensated for that diminished size with either a view of the not-so-distant East River, or a high-floored quietude that's preferable to the second-floor aerie we now occupy.

The trouble with either of these smaller abodes is mine. It's what to do with the over 3,000 books I have in my personal library.

Yesterday, I read a "New York Times'" article entitled "Amazon Kindle Voyage, a High-End E-Reader That Beats Hardcovers."

OK, that's it, I said to myself. It's time to abandon my two-hardcover-a-week habit. It's time to make the leap. Further, it's time to visit the Strand which is down the block from where I'm currently doing my copywriter time. Could you pick up my books--could you empty my apartment for me?

I fantasized for a few hours about moving into a new place and moving away from material possessions. Maybe it's time to get rid of everything. The half-dozen or so expensive suits I will finally admit that I'll never slim down enough to again fit into. Maybe I get rid of everything and leave myself with four pairs of jeans and a couple of dozen of shirts, shoes, etc. The bare minimum.

Maybe I embrace my inner Henry David Thoreau and keep only that which can fit in a small overnight bag.

Then I saw a book on the Koch brothers that I just had to buy. They seem to be running our country and plastering their names all over New York's once chaste cultural institutions and I know nothing about them other than their radical right views and their early support of the virulently horrid John Birch Society.

This morning I saw a book review by one of my favorite authors, Samuel Hynes. Another book I have to have.

Could I buy the new Kindle. And not anymore buy hardcovers.

Could I clean, rid, purge?

Become an aesthete--eschewing all encumbrances.


Uncle Slappy and the Freak Show.

The house phone rang—the land line—which can mean one of three things: 1) A politician is calling asking for money or a vote; 2) A telemarketer is calling asking for dough, or 3) It’s Uncle Slappy with a bug up his nether indignity.

Fortunately for me, it was Uncle Slappy with his usual palaver.

“Boychick,” he began. “Did I ever tell you about your cousin Solly Blattstein?”

“Solly Blattstein,” I repeated, disbelieving the name. “I don’t think you have.”

“I don’t know how he did it, but somehow Solly came into a little money when he was still a young man. Maybe he won it on a horse race—he liked the horses, Solly did. Maybe he held up a grocery. In any event, Solly had a little money.”

“Good for Solly,” I said. “There’s not a lot bad you can say about money.”

“But what Solly did with it,” Slappy continued. “He opened up a Freak Show down a side-street near Coney Island. He called it ‘New York’s Worst Freak Show.’”

“And was it a big success? Did Solly become an Impresario of the Odd?”

“It was the biggest of all successes. And Solly made money hand-over-fist. Who wouldn’t go to something called ‘New York’s Worst?’ The public, such as it is, thought Solly was being modest. They poured in in droves.”

“Oy,” I interjected sagaciously.

“He had some ridiculous acts. The World’s Tallest Midget—he was 5’6. He featured the Bearded Man. The un-Tattooed Lady.”

I repeated my oy and added a veys mir for good measure. That did not deter Uncle Slappy, however.

“But the pinochle of Solly’s Freak Show was his one-armed Lion Tamer.”

“A one-armed Lion Tamer,” I repeated “that must have been dangerous.”

“Not at all,” Slappy assured me. And then he waited and waited until the moment was just right.

“Solly’s lion…”

“Yes?” I asked, obligingly.


The Old Man hung up the blower.

I sat and did nothing.

Like a one-legged lion.

Monday, October 20, 2014

General Slocum in the Tempus Fugit.

Two views of the General Slocum. 235-feet long, She was built in 1891 of white oak and yellow pine.
Even though I was slated to get up at 6AM on Sunday morning to take Whiskey up to Rye for her twice-weekly romp in the sea, I instead woke at 3:30. I was unable to fall back to sleep, so I quickly got dressed and did what I do. I headed the mile or so up to the Tempus Fugit for a cold one or two or three—a way of passing the hours until it was time to swim in the Sound.

We entered the bar and without even a hello, the bartender began his soliloquy.

“The General Slocum sank the day before James Joyce’s Bloomsday. June 15th, 1904 and Joyce wrote about it the next day.”

“Hullo to you, too,” I laughed, sitting on my usual stool. The bartender mechanically brought Whiskey a bowl of cold water and pulled me a Pike’s Ale, “the ALE that won for YALE.” He slid over a small wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I uttered by usual expression of demurral, “A pound in every nut,” and we began our early-morning academy.

'A small gin, sir. Yes, sir. Terrible affair that General Slocum explosion. Terrible, terrible! A thousand casualties. And heartrending scenes. Men trampling down women and children. Most brutal thing. What do they say was the cause? Spontaneous combustion: most scandalous revelation. Not a single lifeboat would float and the firehose all burst. What I can't understand is how the inspectors ever allowed a boat like that... Now you are talking straight, Mr Crimmins. You know why? Palmoil. Is that a fact? Without a doubt. Well now, look at that. And America they say is the land of the free. I thought we were bad here.'

“That’s Joyce, from ‘Ulysses’” he continued “And except for the small gin, it corroborates with all the accounts I’ve heard of the General Slocum. And I think I’ve heard them all.”

“If my nickel-knowledge of New York serves, almost as many people died on the General Slocum as died on the Titanic just eight years later."

"It was the largest single-day of death in the City's history up until September 11th, 2001," he continued. "Mostly poor German immigrants from the Lower East Side. Going to a church picnic. It was a Wednesday and there were 1,300 Krauts on board, they were right down the street--East 90th Street, 200 yards from here in the East River when a fire broke out in the lamp room. About 1,100 died."

"You're somewhat morbid this morning."

"For years bodies would be found on all the islands in the East River, along 90th Street here, even as far-away as Long Island and Westchester.
Bodies washed ashore on North Brother Island.

"One-thousand bodies," I answered "is a lot for the sea to consume."

"In my early days here, back when this was a speakeasy, poor souls would straggle into the Tempus Fugit," he pulled me my second Pike's "after having made a pilgrimage to 90th and the river where their loved ones died. Most people today have forgotten."

"We have so much else to mourn," I said. "So much else to worry about. We have more things to 'Never Forget' than ever before."

Whiskey began stirring from her place on the floor. Maybe she saw a mouse. Or a ghost. I reached down and reassured her by petting her underneath her neck. She returned to sleep.

"Out in the Lutheran Cemetary in Middle Village, Queens, that's where many of the victims were buried. Then there's a fountain in Tompkins Square Park. Nine tall feet of pink marble. There's a boy and a girl etched in the marble, they're looking out to the sea. 'They were earth's purest children young and fair,' is inscribed on the marble."

"Young and fair. Like my kids," I said.

"Young and fair," he repeated.

I began to pay.

"Not today," he said. "Not in front of the children."

Whiskey and I walked the river-route home.

From days of yore.

Sixty-five years ago, my old man got a job in Camden, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. The job was in the advertising department of RCA, the Radio Corporation of America.

In those days, just after World War II, RCA was the Google of its day. It was a company that could do little wrong. And RCA dominated the audio equipment market, and the nascent television market, in a way that that no brand dominates the TV market today.

The commercial my father was most proud of was one where an RCA radio was dropped from an airplane and it still worked. I couldn't find that one on YouTube--I've never actually seen it, so it could be a product of my old man's memory. But I did find the one I pasted above.

It's a pretty rudimentary affair, but I happen to like it. What's more, I think it makes its points effectively. And it's pretty talk-provoking in the offing.

I don't really know where the ad industry has gone wrong. It seems to me we're too busy trying to be in the entertainment business and not busy enough being in the information business.

But that's just me.

And I don't get a vote.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quiet, Krone and Creativity.

On Wednesday night I finally got a good solid hour of quiet.

Quiet is unusual in our worlds.

We seem to work--or at least be subject to emails, phone messages, to-do's, 24-hours-a-day. I know some people who return from four days on the road, four days of early mornings and late nights, and the first thing they do when they get home is sit down at their computer and catch up on everything they've missed.

It's more than a little perverse.

At a time when wages are actually falling, job security is non-existent and perks and bonuses are a thing of the past, we are being compelled to work harder and harder for bosses--the heads of holding companies--we never see,

Despite all that, I got a good solid hour of quiet Wednesday night, and I got to dive deep inside a book that was recently sent to me, "Remember those great Volkswagen ads?"

I’ll admit, beautifully-designed, oversized books printed on heavy paper are a bit of a fetish with me, and I turned each page delicately. I wanted to savor every one. Accordingly, when I got to those parts of books that most people skip past—the Forward, the Prologue, the Author’s Notes, etc. etc., I took the time I had to read them all.

The last of the three or four of the preliminaries I read was called "Krone alone" and it was an account by Helmut Krone, art director of Volkswagen's original ads, of getting the VW assignment from Bill Bernbach.

Krone reacted to the assignment the way most of us act when we get an assignment.

This sucks, he thought. What in god's name is Bernbach thinking. What have I done wrong that I'm being punished.

The VW had a strong Nazi odor. It was co-opted by Hitler as the "Kraft dur Freude," the "Strength through Joy" car. It was ugly. Under-powered. Small at a time when everyone wanted big. Perhaps most depressing of all to Krone, he had to partner with Julian Koenig who, Krone said, spent more time at the racetrack than he did at the office.

Krone was so depressed by all this that after he and Koenig sold their first round of ads, he went on vacation for a few weeks to escape the taint.

It was only when he came back to the States that he learned his VW ads had struck a chord.

I guess my point here is fairly simple.

I happen to believe if you poll most creative people, they'll tell you their assignments suck. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Monet carped about having nothing to paint but his over-grown garden, or Van Gogh had had it up to here with sunflowers.

But good creatives take what they're given.

They might grumble and bark and call their headhunters, etc. But good creatives take what they're given. They find something cool or important buried inside. And they create good work.

All assignments, in a way, suck.

Creativity is making them good.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dour in the Tempus Fugit.

It's not unusual for me to be unable to sleep, and last night, well, it was no exception. Like a lot of medium-to-large apartment houses in the City, mine is filled with people who wear sweaters in the heat of summer. So, at the first hint of cold weather about three or four weeks ago, the "Managing Director," what we used to call a Super, turned off our Central Air and turned on our forced heat.

That action almost always serves as a meteorological sentinel. It tells the weather gods that it's time for a hot spell--a week or more of New York as an Autumnal sauna, with nothing, not the slightest of breezes to spell the sump.

So it was that last night I tossed fitfully until I decided to give up the fitted-sheet ghost and head about a mile uptown to the Tempus Fugit.

It's been a while since I've visited the place, and sleep disturbances or not, I've been itching to go. There are some who say that if you walk too long on concrete, you turn Lycanthropically (lookit up) into a wolf. I feel somewhat the same way about the Tempus Fugit. Too long without a Pike's Ale "the ALE that won for YALE," or too long without a conversation with the bartender, leaves me feeling unmoored, a little like a boat that's been wrestled away from a dock during a storm.

Whiskey and I arrived at just before 4, and before my keister parked on the worn leather of my favorite barstool, the ancient bartender was around the mahogany. In one fluid motion, he placed a bowl of clear water down for Whiskey and was back around the curve of the wood-work pulling me a Pike's, which he served, as always in a six-ounce juice glass. I really can't say it often enough. Beer should be served in such a flagon. Small enough so it always stays cool and frothy.

"How go the unemployment wars," he began. A good bartender, not that I am a denizen of many bars, this is more an assumption on my part, a good bartender will pick up where you left off even if you left off many months ago.

"The income is coming in," I reassured him. "I suppose if I were cut from a different cloth, I would say I'm happy as a pig in slime. I have happened into two situations that keep my synapses from mossing over and give me a place to go when I need one."

He pulled me my second Pike's and began terryclothing in small circles in front of me.

"A place to go being a good thing. Ergo the Tempus Fugit."

"As you've said many times before, a place of libation and fornication."

"And communication," he added.

"I shant overlook communication. To be honest it's why I'm here."

"And why I'm here," he said, continuing with the terry. "We live in an atomized world--the unwashed seven billion. Surrounded as we are by people. But no humans. Pushed onto the subway, vomited out. 'We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.'"

"You're dour tonight," I said, draining number two. He pulled me my last.

"That was Orson Welles, so take it for what it's worth."

"Welles in my book is worth a lot."

"He's the same man who said, 'Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.'"

I laughed at that and pushed my stool away from the bar. I put on my jacket, affixed Whiskey's leash to her and pushed two 20s across the bar-top his way.

"On me," he said pushing the bills back. "And don't be a stranger."

Whiskey and I arrived home just before six.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Olde New York.

New York, if you stop to think about it, is a lot like the advertising industry. It's always changing, and it's never as good as it used to be.

This morning, I made my way to a new temporary office in a part of the city in which I've never worked. I've worked on 18th and Fifth back in the 80s, and I've spent months at a time in post-production in the teens and lower 20s, but I've never worked here before, just a well-aimed spit away from the Strand.

Maybe the best thing about freelancing, besides the Mammon, of course,  is the working in a variety of offices in a variety of different neighborhoods. So, I get to see new things in New York, things I haven't seen before, or even read about. I think you'll find if you spend anytime in any great city, it's a constantly unfolding canvas, full of interesting buildings, fillips and people.

This morning on 13th and 3rd, I noticed this plaque. I love the irregularity of the type. I love the "said he." I love how it appears the bronze has been wrenched out of shape by the years.

Just slightly further West, I noticed two rams looking down on me from the second floor of what was once called "The American Felt Building." I snapped this one from across the block, excuse the blur.
Then, I continued on my way to work. Feeling better for the things I see.

Reflections in a perverse mirror.

For the past few weeks I have been deeply engaged in volumes one and three of Rick Perlstein's study of conservatism in America. Volume one, which I am 16 pages away from finishing examines the rise of the John Birch Society and their hand-picked 1964 Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater.

Volume two focuses on the discontent that brought us to elect Richard Nixon two times. Volume three introduces us to the apotheosis of the rise of the Right--Ronald Reagan.

What's interesting about these books is that Perlstein talks about a political strain that's been with us forever. Radical conservatism might have been relatively dormant during the era of FDR and might have gone into remission during the gleaming days of Kennedy's Camelot, but it's always been with us.

Remember, FDR, perhaps the progenitor of Liberalism in the United States, sought to pack the Supreme Court because he could get no legislation through Congress.

I write about this on an ad blog for a simple reason and it has nothing to do with political philosophy.

What makes it relevant, I believe, is that we on Madison Avenue have the annoying habit of thinking the world looks exactly like we do. We think the world is a tattooed sleeve that starts in Williamsburg and ends around Dumbo.


There are all sorts out there.

They're not all like you.

They're certainly not all like me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Now this is a Mirror Scene.

"Lady from Shanghai."

Orson Welles. Rita Hayworth. Everett Sloane.

The Seven Stages of Copy.

 In "As You Like It," Shakespeare demarcated the Seven Stages of Man. There's a reason the Bard was called the Bard. He was, way more often than not, dead on. I was thinking about his Seven Stages and about writing, and way below, after all the high-falutin' Elizabethan crap, I've written my Seven Stages of copy.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Here are the Cliff Notes:

1.     First the infant,/Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
2.     the whining school-boy, with his satchel/And shining morning face, creeping like snail/Unwillingly to school.
3.     then the lover,/Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad/ Made to his mistress' eyebrow.
4.     Then a soldier,/Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,/
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,/Seeking the bubble reputation/
Even in the cannon's mouth.
5.     then the justice,/ In fair round belly with good capon lined,/
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,/ Full of wise saws and modern instances;
6.     The sixth age shifts/Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,/With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
7.     Last scene of all,/That ends this strange eventful history,/Is second childishness and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

It occurred to me yesterday as I worked from home on a long, defining piece of copy that there might be Seven Stages to writing for advertising as well.

1.     First comes the thinking. What’s the hook, how do I organize this and find meaning in the morass of a client’s mind.
2.     Second comes the organization. What do I need to cover to structure a persuasive argument.
3.     Next there is the typing. The actual putting down of words on a page, of checking your sources, finding facts and details.
4.     Fourth comes the re-reading and the re-writing. The line by line building of your story or case.
5.     Fifth is the closing of your computer. The proclaiming the copy done. When you put it away for an hour or for the evening.
6.     Then comes the marination, the turning over what you’ve written in your head. Pulling some things, pushing others. Wondering how you can make things better, funnier, more interesting, simpler.
7.     Is the re-re-writing. Taking your marinated thoughts and applying them to your work. To make it better.

Sometimes these seven steps take me ten minutes. Sometimes they take a day or two. But regardless, that’s how I work.

It ain’t Shakespeare.

But it’s a living.

Experiential Marketing.

If you're interested in modern marketing, you'd be well-served to book a flight to New York and a hotel room for 2015 for the second weekend in October. That's usually the time of "The New Yorker" Festival and you won't find anywhere, I believe, a better example of content marketing, event marketing, affinity marketing, just plain marketing.

The Festival has been running for 15 years now--in Manhattan, not Brooklyn--and it seems to get better with each passing season. Thousands of New Yorker readers turn out. The events sell out in just seconds and each is preceded by a line down the block and affluent pseudo-intellectuals sharpening their elbows to get a seat up front.

In the past, my wife and I had attended a star-studded literary tribute to the exemplary New Yorker writer, Joseph Mitchell, an eating tour of lower Manhattan guided by Calvin Trillin and tugboat tour of New York Harbor--all the way up to the bowels of Perth Amboy.

This year we saw Jane Mayer, author of "The Dark Side" conduct a Skype interview with the on-the-lam whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Then we saw New Yorker humor editor David Remnick interview Larry David. The weekend concluded for us with a screening of Barry Levinson's new movie "The Humbling," followed by film-critic David Denby interviewing Levinson.

In all, the three-day weekend of the event is well-curated, well-produced and well-welled. What the New Yorker's really doing with the Festival is bringing their content (which is among the best in the world) to life. You're inside a living breathing magazine. You're not just reading content, you're immersed in it.

Too much of today's bullshit experiential or bullshit content marketing is bland or done on the cheap. To my mind it represents a permutation of David Ogilvy's warning "The Consumer isn't a moron, she's your wife."

No, most of the short films you see online, or on Agency Spy are badly-produced masturbatory displays. They aren't intelligent. They don't add value. They don't bring anything to life and make it real.

Like most things, if you're going to do it, do it right.

For me, experiential marketing doesn't get better than the New Yorker Festival. They don't, like Verizon or Time-Warner or Bank of America or MasterCard just plaster their logo everywhere and assault you with their bombast.

They actually consider their viewers and treat them with respect.

You should try it some time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The best advertising book ever compiled has just been re-published.

Back about 30 years ago I bought a book called "Remember those great Volkswagen ads?" With the possible exception of "Ogilvy on Advertising," it was the best book on advertising I've ever read. It is certainly the best book on copywriting, bar none.

The book consisted of 300 or so Volkswagen ads. With a magnifying glass and a bright desk lamp, you could read each one, as I did, over and again. I cannot conceive of better training for anyone who writes for a living. As Dave Trott points out, after Bernbach, everything else is a footnote. To that I might add that Volkwagen was the apotheosis of DDB. They might have reached peaks on other pieces of business, but no account did more great work over more decades than DDB and its overseas arms did for VW.

Last week, a friend from blogging, John O'Driscoll, sent me an email asking for my home address. He's one of the men behind the new, expanded edition, along with the late David Abbott and Alfredo Marcantonio. And today the copy he sent me arrived via the good graces of Federal Express.

Though I have work to do today, "Remember" pushed it to the back-burner. I just had to scour the volume. I just had to write this.

A new, comprehensive book on VW's glory decades is to me what discovering a new Leonardo, or Van Gogh would be to an art historian.

This is an event.

The new volume has expanded to 450 ads, including some I've never seen before from Germany and France. And that's going some, because, like I said, I strive to be a good writer and Volkswagen ads have been my teacher. I've sought out DDB's opus and their spawn for my whole career. You can buy the new volume here and if you're serious about effective communication, you owe it to yourself and your clients.

I'm not a big deal in advertising like I once was. In fact, right now I'm the lowest of the low--a freelancer. Like Lear, I'm on the downhill side of life. But, still, I'll say this.

If I were running an agency or a creative department, I'd buy a copy of "Remember" for every client. I'd buy one for every account person, planner and creative as well. Then I'd give every one a reading day. A day where they had nothing to do but read VW ads.

They'd see the virtue of single-mindedness. They'd see that work can build both a rational and emotional connection with the viewer. They'd see the best product advertising ever created and the best brand advertising, too. They'd see clarity. They'd see persuasion. They'd see wit.

My clients would be better clients. My agency would create better creative.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Being cheap can really cost you.

Traffic was moving blithely on the Grand Central going into the city. I noticed the 31st Street exit, the last exit in Queens was open and I quickly veered over to get off and drive the two miles through Astoria to the Queensboro Bridge, thereby saving the $7.50 they charge for crossing into Manhattan on the Triboro.

I turned left onto 31st Street and oddly enough I saw ahead of me virtually no cars and for about eight traffic lights ahead, nothing but green. 31st Street sits underneath the elevated Broadway Local, so to navigate it properly, you have to stay awake. At any moment a car can sneak out from between the ancient girders and merge suddenly into the one lane of traffic cutting you off abruptly.

That's exactly what happened to me, a grey Dodge Charger with a Hemi engine cut me off. In the accepted New York fashion, I leaned heavily on my horn with my right hand. Speaking of hands, my right one rose up automatically, as did my middle finger.

All at once a squat Puerto Rican hopped out of the Dodge.

"You want to fucking fight," he screamed.

My wife screamed, too.

"Back up. Back up."

"I'll take that finger and shove it up your ass."

I assessed the situation like I measure an advertising brief. He was no more than 5'7" or 8". I'm 6'2". Yes, I had 20 years on him, but I'm a mean sonofabitch when you get me riled.

My wife bid me say nothing.

I noticed there was another squat Puerto Rican in the passenger seat. He was also yelling at me. That only got my dander up.

All at once I wished my friend from blogging, the inimitable Rich Siegel were with me. It seems to me he'd be a nasty street-fighter with the moxie to help me tackle a scene out of "West Side Story." We might be two older Jewish men, but we're also decades-long survivors of the advertising game. I'd put money down on the two of us. I fairly think we would have mopped the asphalt with them

(BTW, the trick to fighting two guys or more at once, is fairly simple. Pick the smallest guy and twist his arm behind his back. Threaten to rip it off and demonstrate that you had the inclination to do so, and the other guys, his putative cohorts will quickly cave and abandon him. It helps if your adversaries think you're more than a little bit deranged.)

Somehow, I guess because my wife prevailed and I grudgingly said nothing, the Puerto Rican gentleman got back into his car and drove off. I'll admit, I thought better of pulling alongside him when we stopped at a light. No, I stayed safely behind.

And I felt like a coward.

Next time, maybe, I'll pay the toll.

It's cheaper that way.