Friday, January 30, 2015

Found copywriting.

At a .99 cent store on Lex and 124th Street, Harlem, NY, USA.

Big things. Little things.

I was up early this morning. Not as early as yesterday when I was up at 4. But early nonetheless.

My wife had scheduled an appointment up in Harlem for us to look at some new hardwood floors we're hoping to have installed in our apartment. After living in the place for 16 years, we're finally getting around to renovating it.

Renovation is a time when things that should be unimportant in the greater scheme of life become pressing. You find yourself perseverating over tiles. You engage in deep conversations about a drawer that holds a microwave and pops out with the push of a button. You have Talmudic debates over the virtues of maple as opposed to oak.

I'm sure all of this will be worth it when our apartment is a showpiece out of "Architectural Digest," or at least "Metropolitan Home." But for the time being I feel like a bleeding man discussing the efficacy of various tourniquets. Just do the fucking job the best way you know how.

I suppose a lot of advertising life is like renovating an apartment or home.

You're told to do a lot of things that are really minor and somewhat excruciating. I remember once working with a vaunted designer on an ad. I showed him the headline I had written and he asked me to re-write it without descenders. That is without q's, y's, p's, g's and j's. It's not that it was that hard to do, it's just...why?

It seems to me that most advertising these days is more about decorative flourishes than foundational strength. I guess that's the world we live in, too.

Little things mean a lot.

Big things mean fuck all.

That's all for now.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Found copywriting.

Sometimes I think the best copywriting in New York can be found on the sides of panel trucks. Even if they're from Jersey.

The Super Bowl, Downton Abbey and Uncle Slappy.

"I'm not a fan of Downton Abbey," Uncle Slappy said at 4:30 this morning when he decided to call me.

"Uncle Slappy," I said. "Why are you calling this early? Only farmers and milkmen are up."

He laughed at that.

There are no more farmers. And certainly no more milkmen.

But as usual, Uncle Slappy had a rejoinder.

"I knew you were up," he said. "I could feel it in my kishkas."

I had to hand it to the Old One. His kishkas were right. I was up at 4:30 this morning.

"So you were in Atlanta, and you didn't swing by?"

He made it sound like the distance from his place in Boca to Atlanta was nothing more than a mile or two.

"I was working, Uncle Slappy," I said. "I didn't have a moment to myself."

"Down to watch the Super Bowel I was hoping we could together see," he jumbled. Articulate as he is, and intelligent, sometimes some Chomsky-element of Uncle Slappy's brain slips into Yiddish sentence structure. I unravelled and answered.

"I would love to be able to watch the game with you," I answered. "But I have too much to deal with in New York."

"I'm not watching," the old man admitted. "Bunch of thyroid cases in tight pants."

"As you know, I have to watch. I have to see the commercials."

"The blight on our culture that interrupts the blight on our culture."

"That's about right," I agreed.

"The Super Bowel. Feh," he concluded. "Sylvie will have me watching Downton Abbey."

"Of which you are not a fan," I reminded.

"On the Lower East Side amid the rats, the pushcarts, the no heat and the landlords I grew up," he said. "Manor houses, butlers, footmen and inherited wealth do nothing for me.

"Now if Pupik Broadcasting did a series about my childhood, that I'd watch. I even have the perfect title."

"What's that," I asked. George Burns has nothing on me as a straight man.

"'Downtown Shabby.'"

With that he hung up. Leaving me staring into my iPhone.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Me, Huntz Hall and long ago.

There’s a small store around the corner on 11th between Broadway and University that sells all manner of baseball memorabilia. The owner of the place has an art director’s eye and a copywriter’s wit and he usually has something in the front window, or on the chalkboard he places on the sidewalk that impels me to go in. While I’m inside, more often than I should, I drop $29 on an old-style baseball cap.

The one I’ve been wearing of late is black with an orange button on top and a seriffy interlocked NY also in orange up front. It’s a replica of a cap the New York Giants wore before they abandoned Coogan’s Bluff and the Polo Grounds on 155th and 8th Avenue and moved to Seals Stadium in San Francisco.

It’s the cap Mays wore—the one that flew off his head as he rounded the bases with another base-clearing triple. It’s the cap Dusty Rhodes wore. It was worn by one Foster Castleman, who in the Giants’ final season in town batted all of .162, a full 13-pounds under his playing weight.

What makes these caps perfect is they’re made the way caps used to be. Their brim in particular is malleable. You can crush the things and carry them in the back pocket of your flannel uniform, or, if your playing days are over, your blue jeans.

Lately I’ve taken to wearing my cap like I did when I was a youth. I’ve been popping the brim up like Huntz Hall did in the old “Bowery Boys” pictures in which he played a doofy character called Horace Debussey “Satch” Jones.

I like wearing my cap this way, always did. I like the pressure the brim puts on my forehead; it feels right. I also like how it annoys the shit out of my wife. How do I put this? I think it makes me appear a little dim. I revel in my dimmitude, whereas she looks askance at it.

Back 39 years ago, I brought this fashion to the Seraperos de Saltillo, the team I played for and the perennial cellar-dwellers in the Mexican League. It started with me, and unintentionally, it spread through the roster.

Soon, we had a whole skein of guys wearing their caps in a most unsophisticated manner. Even Hector Quesadilla, our manager, took to popping up his brim. In a league and in an era where things like batting helmets were optional, we even went to bat with our Louisville Sluggers in hand and our silly hats on head.

I suppose someday in the not-so-distant future, I will tire of wearing my caps this way. I will lose the ones I’ve bought or I will need to move onto something new to nettle my wife. But for now, a tip of the hat to the tip of my hat.

Long may she wave.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kim Kardashian and the Snow Storm of 2015.

There's the old advertising joke about a woman of 70 who dies and goes before St. Peter. 

Everything seems to be in order until St. Peter notices that she'd been married 45 years and is still a virgin. "Explain," St. Peter tells her.

"Well, my husband was in advertising," she answers. "Each night he'd sit on the end of the bed and tell me how great it was going to be."


The heaviest snowstorm since the end of the Ice Age seems to have resulted in little more than a few inches of snow and a few miles of over-reaction.

The news ran non-stop. Airports closed. City subways and buses--stopped at 11PM. Even the hardiest of all, Chinese delivery boys, were pulled off the streets. That's when you know things are serious.


I'm stuck in Atlanta because every flight from Teterboro to Timbuktu was cancelled.

Hyperbole seems to be our modern metier.

In weather. In sports. In celebrity. And of course, in advertising.

In advertising, we don't have to do anything.

We just have to talk about it.

Maybe I'm reacting this way because I just saw a well-done spot by that queen of nothingness, Kim Kardashian, for T-Mobile. It's a funny-enough spot, and she is certainly attention-getting. What's more, as T-Mobile's CMO puts it "Who better than Kim Kardashian? She's a social media powerhouse. This isn't just a TV commercial. This isn't just a 30-second spot. This is a social media event."

OK. I get it. She has 28 million Twitter followers and 25 million followers on Instagram.

I can't be the only one who wouldn't buy ice-cream from her on a hot day in August. She has all the class of a used-car salesman with a prosthetic ass. She's over-exposed, under-clothed and in-my-face and I don't like it, or her, or any brand that drafts off her caboose.

I get T-Mobile's point, and Kardashian's spot makes it.

But I hate it.

When we were kids in college, there was always a sign on the bulletin board in the student center that said in huge type "SEX!"

Then underneath that, "Now that I have your attention, I need a ride to Poughkeepsie for the long weekend."

It was weak then.

In our steroidal, hyperbolic era, it's even weaker now.

Monday, January 26, 2015


The biggest snow storm since the last Ice Age is expected to hit New York starting this afternoon and a bunch of us are flying out early--earlier than we had planned--to make a client meeting some thousand miles from here.

We're due to fly back to LaGuardia on Tuesday night, but surely we will be delayed until Wednesday or maybe even Thursday. In any event, I've packed four days of clothing for an overnight trip and, as usual, I'm expecting the worst.

If it were up to me, which of course it's not, I'd have opted for a "web ex" meeting rather than an in-person one. That seems to make sense given the two-feet of snow that is expected to choke the tri-state area. You can probably tell, I'm less than excited about this.

I'm a freelancer, however, and I don't get a vote.

So I'm packed.

I'm ready.

I'm caffeinated.

And off we go.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beach day.

Though approximately the 30th or 40th "Blizzard of the Century" is due to descend upon us starting this evening, Whiskey's nose nudged me awake this morning at 6:15. I pushed her away and she volleyed back like a tennis "champeen," nudging me again at 6:16--push--then 6:17.

With her cold, wet nose on my back a third time, and my wife showing no signs of life, I rolled out of bed and put on yesterday's clothes. We made coffee  and checked our email and facebook for signs of intelligent life. Finding none, Whiskey and I walked around the block. She attended to her canine ablutions, while I was salivating like an FOP (friend of Pavlov) just thinking of the coffee I had made.

Arriving home, my wife had emerged and in short order we decided, despite the inclemency and the snow already fallen, to head up to Rye so Whiskey could romp in less urban environs. We piled into the Simca, my wife wrapped in an old afghan since our heater isn't working and drove the twenty or so miles through the Bronx and southern Westchester to a sylvan park that runs along the Long Island Sound for about a mile.

There, Whiskey cavorted with her canine cohorts, chasing various throwing toys and chasing furry backends which hold so much appeal. After about two hours of this, Whiskey still had energy and I headed with her down to the water, crossing about three-hundred yards of sand to where the small waves lapped against the coast.

I've been on these beaches a hundred times and spent one summer working alongside the beach on the boardwalk, yet I had never seen the tide so far out. It was as if we could walk--almost--across the Sound all the way to Glen Cove, Long Island.

The beach was empty, or nearly so. There were small clumps of people on the littoral with small clumps of dogs careening around. I clomped through the sandy mud in my winter boots, sinking in and sucking out with the sound like a drain draining. It was quiet, peaceful, so far from the world of the city just 20 miles south.

Whiskey and I walked the mile-length of Oakland Beach, skirting the fence that separates it from Rye Beach and then walked some more. I tossed her toy, she brought back. Though the water was just above freezing, she was all for going for a swim, paddling out, fetching that which compelled her and returning proudly to my side.

We did this for a good hour. Whiskey running, fetching, swimming, barking, rolling in the muddy sand. You could scour the globe and you'd be hard-pressed to find a happier creature or one more comfortable in her element.

The office was calling and it was time, so back we headed to the Simca and the city.

We're safely home before the storm.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Six things that make a great client.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

10 things I hate.

1.  People so obsessed about a food or drink that they'll do anything to get it/them.
2.  People smiling while banking or gushing about banking with their smart phone.
3.  White people rapping/twerking/using gang symbols.
4.  Balloons in an auto showroom.
5.  Flo.
6.  Commercials about commercials.
7.  Kids who talk like adults.
8.  Adults who talk like kids.
9.  Impossibly pretty people at impossibly "off-the-hook" parties.
10. Talking products.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Helping Obama.

Imagine a nation with a population of 100 people and a money supply of $100. Now imagine if one of those hundred people had $90. That’s 1% of the people with 90% of the wealth.

That’s basically what we have in the United States.

Imagine now that among our 100, there’s a middle class—it’s twenty people, 20% of the population. They have 30-cents each. That means the 20% of the middle class have 6% of the aggregate wealth. Those 20 people have an aggregate of $6.

That leaves 79 people dividing the remaining 4% wealth. They get, at best, a nickel each.

That’s what income disparity is.

It means the vast majority of the nation can’t afford to buy things.


While the world spins through the 21st Century, I have decided—in the evening anyway—to leave our troubled era and the issues of today and travel to Tsarist Russia where I am marking the life and times of one Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili, known to us all as Uncle Joe, or Joseph Stalin.

I am reading Stephen Kotkin’s new volume (the first of an anticipated three volumes) on the great dictator. It’s called “Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928” and it measures a full 950-pages.

So far, I’ll admit, I’ve been enjoying reading on the device. Certainly carrying a ounces of e-book around beats carrying around seven or nine pounds of Soviet despot. And the device works simply, intuitively. I’ll miss having books as my living room, and bedroom, and guest room, and kids’ room décor. Like Umberto Eco who is reputed to have a personal library of 35,000 books, or like the aforementioned Jefferson who had 3,000, I love books and love being surrounded by them.

I've also been thinking of changing my reading habits. Of walking away from contemporary non-fiction to the Classics.

What if, I ask myself, for the rest of my life, I read nothing but Homer. Poring over the Iliad and Odyssey. What if I read Piers Plowman and Chaucer. And Gilgamesh. And Shakespeare. And, of course, Cervantes? What if I search, not for the temporal, but for the essential and elemental truths of our woebegon species? If I read Thucydides would I be any worse off for my knowledge of foreign wars?

Of course with the esoteric comes estrangement from others. The inability to chat about what's going on on Netflix or HBO or even NBC.

But I don't really care about that.

Like Garbo, I vant to be alone.

With my books.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Client Appreciation Month.

Walking to work this morning I saw a large auto-carrying truck clattering down 2nd Avenue amid the crush of normal rush-hour traffic. On the side of the truck was a large, ill-designed sign that read: "January is Truck Owners Appreciation Month."

I thought of that for a couple of minutes. How an auto-dealer has a whole month where they appreciate the people who buy their trucks. I decided to do the same and make the next 30 days my own private Client Appreciation Month.

Actually, it began last night.

It began on a phone call that had roughly the number of attendees as the United Nations' General Assembly. While they dickered and bickered over stylistic changes to my copy, I sat mute. I was gracious and polite. I never 'said leave the style to me, focus instead on substance.' No. I bit my quavering lip.

Then when they got to substantive things and they themselves had no idea what they were and turned to me and said 'George, what do you think,' I never said, 'this is your bread and butter, not mine. You tell me.' No, again I was gracious and polite. I temporized. Finally, fractiously we retyped the copy reflecting their various whims and caprices.

And later--a late "10-minute call" that lasted an hour, I kept my tone mellifluous. I said, gently, to the client that 61 pieces of feedback from 94 separate emails was not an entirely effective way of working.

But again, I was plasticene. As smiling as a mannikin made of pure serotonin.

So now, Client Appreciation Month enters day two.

I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I won't forget this.

I'm one of the lucky ones.

I lost my job at America's hottest digital agency but found better work--and better money--on the outside.

I've worked everyday but about a dozen since March.

One day last October, I was freelancing at a place.

Making my day rate.

I had to head out to an edit.

And I left my power-source plugged in at my desk.

By the time I got back about a week or two later, my power source was gone.

I'm out a power source.

Today, I'm wrapping up at that same power-source-swiping place. Six weeks. Good money.

Still, I couldn't finagle a replacement power source.

I'm minus one.

But I'm keeping score.

Free at last.

I have the news from National Public Radio on as I write this and a thought just arrived at my cerebral doorstep.

Out of 20 or so minutes of news, about 15 of those minutes are about taxes. About President Obama pressing for higher taxes for the bloated plutocrats who have stacked the economy's deck in their favor. About lower taxes on the middle class and small businesses. Even the story about an overpass that's collapsed out in Cincinnati and closed highway 75 indefinitely is about taxes. If we taxed appropriately our roads wouldn't look like something out of Beirut.

All you have to do is sit through a modern briefing and you realize that talk of taxes has spread to agencies as well. We look to create stunts and viral videos. We call it "earned" media. Yeah, right.

The fact is, for the last few decades our world has become infantilized.

We act like children. We're immature. Silly. And we play silly games.

I say this because in both circumstances, talk of taxes and agency briefings, no one wants to pay for anything.

Everyone's hoping somehow our schools will be good, our streets will be safe, our hungry will be fed and our borders will be secured, but we want to do this without paying for it.

We also hope our brands will be strong, liked, talked about, sampled without paying for it.

Maybe it's because we get crappy blogs like this one for free. Or the internet has promised that everything is free--everything from porn to recipes for pork chops.

Everyone wants free.

No one wants to admit: you get what you pay for.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Six more things that suck.

With a tip of the Fedora to JT.

1.   Calling an "idea,' content sucks. 
2.   Brainstorming with account folk sucks. you want to be in the ideas
      department, get a book together and show me you're my equal.
3.   Brainstorming with anyone before you've had a chance to think about
      the assignment sucks.
4.   Expecting senior level breakthrough thinking for $50 an hour sucks.
5.   Getting a brief that could apply to over a thousand products in a
       thousand different industries sucks.

6.    Having to actually point out shit like this when it should be obvious
       to a
nyone sucks.

Nine changes that suck.

I saw a young old friend for breakfast this morning. One of the smartest most ambitious people I know. And also well-adjusted. She left the fleshpots of Madison Avenue almost a decade ago. “I’m not even sure I could go back,” she said to me. “Too much has changed,” I answered. “Most of all they suck.”

1.              Track changes suck. I don’t know about you, I can’t address copy changes that come in from seven different people in four different colors with everybody talking over everybody else. You want efficient? Come to my desk and talk to me. You can bring a pencil if you like.
2.              Google drive changes suck. Same as above with your smiling face in a thumbnail I really don’t need to see that while you’re butchering my work.
3.              Proving to me how hard you’re working sucks. Copy changes at seven that are due the next day at noon suck. As much as you’d like me to, I don’t work around the clock. See me with suggestions at 9. Bring me coffee. And we’ll work out a delivery time. Civility. Try it.
4.              Acting as if everything is as important as the Allied invasion of Europe sucks. We don’t need war rooms. Deployment of resources. Hourly mandatory check ins. Sorry. Your anxiety doesn’t correspond to my efficiency.
5.              Not being able to print sucks. I shouldn’t have to swipe a card, enter a job code or beg an assistant to print a document. I know that “watch the pennies and the dollars watch themselves.” But for crissakes, just let me print without the run-around.
6.              Meetings during lunch hour suck. I’m not hypo-gycemic.. I don’t have low blood sugar. But I do need to push away from the desk and eat a tuna salad sandwich now and again. There’s feeding time at zoos. Allow people to eat in peace.
7.              Open-plan offices suck. But you knew that already.
8.              Having the word Chief in a title sucks. And having more than one chief sucks even when they’re differentiated by “Geo.” Stop taking yourself so damn seriously. And any business that needs a Chief Ethics Officer should either be mob run, or should be out of business.
9.        Lists suck. They’re the cheapest form of writing.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A package from Mexico.

I arrived home last night late. I've been going hard for the last month--leaving the house at 6:30 and not arriving home until eight or so. Last night, I came home to an empty apartment. My wife had a client dinner. And my 17-year-old niece, who is feuding with her father and therefore staying with us, was ostensibly studying with a friend.

When I got into the apartment, there was a shoe-box-sized package on the dining room table, neatly tied up with bakery twine. My name and address was neatly written on the outside and I noticed the postmark was from Saltillo, Mexico--Hector Quesadillo's home town.

Somehow, as much as we're programmed to open packages that arrive, I was loathe to open this one. Getting a token from his wife, Teresa, well, it scared me. It seems so final, so sad.

I shook the box a few times but was unable to get a bead on it. Finally I pulled out a pair of orange-ringed scissors I had lifted from one agency or another, and sliced through the twine and tape that had sealed the box.

Next, I pulled out the newspaper the box was packed with. First I saw a note, in English from Hector's widow, Teresa. "He love you." It said simply and purely.

Then I saw it, Hector's ancient Rawling's Brooks Robinson fielder's glove.

It's been years since I tried to have catches with my daughters who never showed the slightest interest in baseball. But since my youth baseball gloves have grown faster than genetically-modified tomatoes. Today, they suffer from giantism. They are to gloves from my era what LeBron James is to Willie Shoemaker.

Hector's glove was small, not much larger than the cashmere lined affairs that my wife bought me one Hanunkkah. The leather was stiff and cracked like a desert riverbed during the dry season. The whole thing was stiff and arthritic like the unused knees of a long-time paralytic.

I fit the thing onto my hand and felt the dirt from a hundred ballparks. I had to wiggle my hand in--it was like putting on a pair of too-tight jeans. My left hand hasn't gotten bigger, clearly gloves have gotten smaller.

I squeezed the thing open and shut a few dozen times. Like I said, it was stiff and creaky. I looked around my apartment for a baseball--just something hard and round to toss into the pocket. But I'm 57 now, with no kids at home and no baseballs. I pounded my fist into the pocket and the webbing. I heard myself talking pepper, urging one of our pitchers on.

Finally, after about three minutes, I took the thing off. My hands were coated with ball-park dust and were slightly oranged from the aniline in the glove. In the kitchen I got a two-gallon sized ziploc bag and placed the glove inside and then put the whole--excuse me--enchillada on the top, almost inaccessible shelf in my closet.

When my wife got home she asked what was in the package--I had left its detritus on the table--and I told her.

"You'll get it bronzed," she said. "We can display it on the bookshelves in the living room."

I thought about it for a moment and maybe I nodded agreeably.

But no.

Hector would want me to use it. To repair my torn-rotator. To have a catch, to loosen my wing. And then to take a few laps.

I'll do it Hector's way.

Play ball.