Thursday, September 28, 2017

Five minutes with our CBO.

AD AGED: So you're a CBO. What does that stand for, Chief Business Officer?

CBO: Oh, nothing so prosaic as that. My role is much more nuanced and important.

AD AGED: Please elaborate.

CBO: My exact title is Chief Brilliant Officer.

AD AGED: And what is it that you, as Chief Brilliant Officer, do?

CBO: Well, it's simple really. I spring into action when others of the C-suite are working. If someone "above" me says something, my job is simple.

AD AGED: More specifics, please. 

CBO: Say it's a tough, late-night pitch meeting and the CEO says something like "I think we should do a commercial with dancing clowns." My job as CBO is crystal clear. I say "brilliant."

AD AGED: You say brilliant.

CBO: If someone says, "does anyone want to take a coffee break," I say "brilliant." If someone above me presents a media strategy or some creative, I say "brilliant."

AD AGED: Our time is nearly up. Anything else?

CBO: Yes, if the situation is really dire, that's when I really earn my keep.

AD AGED: Yes...

CBO: That's when I say "brilliant," but with an English accent.

AD AGED: Brilliant.

CBO: Cheers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

I hate advertising.

I'm not sure if there is any other industry in the world that hates itself as much as the advertising industry.

Taking baseball as an industry, I don't think you have players, coaches, managers, owners or umpires looking at the National Football League or the National Basketball Association, and then saying aloud, "They are popular, we are not, therefore, baseball is dead."

Surely, advertising has its problems--its challenges. What industry doesn't?

But it seems to me that some number of our wounds are self-inflicted. 

  • We posit that consumers hate advertising.
  • We assert--though a record number of books are published each year--that no one reads.
  • We proclaim that no one watches TV anymore--though viewing of video (on all screens) is up, not down.
  • We fantasize that there was, at one time, a magical era where people catatonically absorbed interruptions without complaint.

I've been around the ad industry seemingly forever. My old man was in the business at the start of the TV era. I started earning money with words in 1980. I'm not buying it. 

Advertising's simple mission--to impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way--fulfills a human need. If advertising is dying it's because it has strayed from that objective. 

There's a relatively new book out now by a guy called Andrew Essex. It's called "The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die, and the Creative Resurrection to Come".

Here's "The New Yorker's" thumbnail review:

Amazon's review says this: "The ad apocalypse is upon us. Today millions are downloading ad-blocking software, and still more are paying subscription premiums to avoid ads. This $600 billion industry is now careening toward outright extinction, after having taken for granted a captive audience for too long, leading to lazy, overabundant, and frankly annoying ads. Make no mistake, Madison Avenue: Traditional advertising, as we know it, is over."

I wish proclaiming things "over" was over.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Me and my meanders.

My day started early this morning, as it does so many days. I was up with the milkman, and in my dim memory, I heard the tingle clanking of old glass bottles as he made his rounds through a tilted neighborhood I lived in so many moons ago. 

I was up with the milkman, up with the farmers, up with Venus, the morning star, which shines bright in the sky before the sun chases it away.

I had work I had to do this morning, and starting around 7, I started pecking around my keyboard trying to find the right sequence of keys.

It would not be wrong for me to admit--unabashedly--that I believe I am in the communications business. And that most marketing problems can be solved--at least in part--with the proper application of the right message, repeated consistently. I won't go into politics this instant, but I believe that the 2016 election was won by Trump in large measure at least because his "Make America Great Again," was orders of magnitude stronger, clearer and more visceral than Clinton's anodyne and feckless "I'm with her."

So, I'm old-fashioned. I believe in messaging, and information, and, reasons why--both rational and emotional. I spent 90 minutes last night in front of the TV watching Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick's "Vietnam." It was a sad and enervating hour and a half, reminding me of the societal ruptures we as Americans have experienced and the lies propagated by corrupt generals and even more corrupt politicians, selling the notion that we could possibly win a war, after we had already lost the trust of the people the war most seminally affected.

It was real--the communication from the documentary. It told the story with clips, stills, music, and contemporary commentary. Even if you're not interested in this particular period of history, or any period of history, check out the series. Check out how smart people communicate a point of view to people they respect.

On a separate note, I got invited this morning to attend a panel discussion at Advertising Week, which is going on now in New York.

Here's a synopsis of what they are discussing. I've read the description six times and don't understand a word. 

We have a choice as communicators. We can be clear or we can bullshit. Clear leads to peace. Bullshit to more bullshit.

"This panel will explore how successful brands and disruptors are inverting the traditional approach and abandoning a
silo-ed team structure in favor of a data-driven approach to creativity to break down barriers to marketing success in the age of digital.

"In order to be more effective marketers, brands need to become better listeners. That means internalizing data-driven audience insights across teams, and letting these insights drive the creative process versus the classic “top down” approach of Creative Directors, which has ruled our industry for decades. Instead of retrofitting strategy to support creative, let data and insights lead creative."

Monday, September 25, 2017

A weekend not of football.

Unlike most of America, or at least most of my Facebook feed, I stayed away from football this weekend, except to check in on the Columbia-Georgetown game which took place at one on a marvelously sunny Saturday afternoon.

For pretty much the entirety of my adult life, Columbia has had one of the ten worst college football teams in the country. But two years ago, they decided 'enough is enough' and finally hired a coach, Al Bagnoli, who had led the University of Pennsylvania so successfully, to turn their program around.

Last week they beat Wagner--pronounced with a W--not a V like the German composer, 21-0, and this weekend they trounced the Hoyas 35-14

I played football for a year in high school--a tribute not to some transcendent athleticism on my part, but to my size. I was already, as a 16-year-old senior 6' tall and 200 pounds, and I had, because I was too stupid to acknowledge my limitations, prodigious strength and speed.

My team was a bad one, and after two resounding losses in our first two games, we had so many players injured that we couldn't field a proper squad. We had a team meeting and voted to discontinue the season for the safety of the remaining players.

Some kids, of course, voted at that meeting to soldier on. But I had a busted probiscis already and a bandaged face and though the peer-pressure--and a nascent machismo were there--I boldly said 'I'm out.' 

The truth is, I've never really cared for the sport. I've always found it too brutal and ugly and warlike and as slow as an ice-floe in February.

This week, of course, Trump put football back on the front pages. Trump the draft-dodger, Trump the anti-Constitutionalist, Trump the Russian-colluder made standing for the anthem the litmus test of his brand of dime-store phony patriotism.

The truth is, I wish I could take a knee as well. That is not stand-up and acknowledge the meanness and xenophobia and racism which is now ascendant. Would that I could put my taxes in escrow and not have them go to propagating and propping up our illegitimate regime.

That said, I am a creature of hope and believe that the House of Trump is much like Poe's House of Usher. It will fall, I believe, by Halloween, or if not then, by the time the kneeling is over--by the end of the football season, perhaps we will, as a nation, be standing again.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Stranger in a strange land.

“George,” she said standing over my desk, oblivious to the fact that I was typing and in the middle of a thought.

“George,” she insisted. “We need you in 14B. There’s a big ecosystem meeting now, we’re discussing if we can retarget our target without initially targeting them.”

“I’d love to go,” I lied, “but I’m in the middle of writing some copy. I promised it to the client at 2.” It was about 1:15.

“We really need you,” she said, turning on the charm. “We’re having a new sprint and the scrum needs you to help iterate.”

“Look,” I began, but she cut me off.

“The stakeholders are backlog grooming and we need a daily standup to fail fast and avoid feature creep.”

“Speaking of creeps,” I said, but again she cut me off.

“C’mon,” she said, fairly tugging at me. “Look at this Kanban, or is it a Scrumban? Anyway, look at it on your way downstairs. We need to swarm and story-map before we get time-boxed.”

We were in the elevator now, heading down to 14B, when fortunately the elevator stopped. The doors opened on 9.

“Listen,” I said, stepping off, “I have a 407 in 8219 and will catch up later. Ping me on the 9270 and I’ll ying-yang on the knick-knack.”

The doors shut, and I walked up the steps to my desk. And I sat down to finish my copy.

Joy to the world.

Now that the Jewish New Year is upon us, it's a good time, perhaps, to turn to thoughts ontological--or even cosmological. 

That is, it's a good time, I think, to ponder: is the world going to hell in a handbasket?

There seem to be a lot of reasons to leap up and say "hell yeah."

For one, our President is an idiot--and idiot who activates not 'the better angels of our nature,' but instead the worst of America. Venal, petty, racists, misogynistic, anti-science, nazi scum.

9,000 miles away, another idiot nut is threatening to explode hydrogen bombs over the Pacific. 

Mexico has been rocked by a series of horrific earthquakes. And the Caribbean is being blown apart by hurricane after hurricane caused by changes in the climate that one-half of the American electorate denies.

But then, and because it's a new year, there's this (by way of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)

Childhood mortality

Since 1990, more than 100 million lives have been saved among kids 5 years and younger. The rate of death has fallen from 85 deaths per 1,000 live births to just 38.."
Maternal mortality
Over the past 25 years, women have started giving birth in hospitals and health facilities more frequently than at home.
The biggest benefit: Mortality rates have fallen from 275 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 179 deaths in 2016.
HIV's decline over the past 25 years is nothing short of remarkable, the report noted. Rates of infection have fallen from their high of 0.60 deaths per 1,000 people in the late 1990s to 0.25 in 2016.
The World Bank defines global poverty as living on less than $1.90/day.
The Gates Foundation found rates of such poverty have declined considerably over the last few decades, from 35% in 1990 to 9% in 2016.
Between 1990 and 2016, the prevalence of daily smoking among people 10 years and older has dropped from 22% to 16%.
Greater numbers of sewer connections and water treatment plants are helping to clean up the world.
Over the last 25 years, the percentage of people relying on unsafe sanitation has fallen from 57% to 33%.
Neglected tropical diseases
There are a slew of neglected tropical diseases that affect 1.6 billion people but rates of infection of neglected tropical diseases have fallen from 47,000 cases per 100,000 people in 1990 to 27,000 cases in 2016.
The Gates Foundation called widespread vaccination "one of the most impressive public health stories in global health."
Since 1990, the proportion of target populations who have gotten covered by the eight major vaccines has risen from 73% to 89%.

There's also this. A photo of the waterfall my daughter Hannah swam in yesterday in Fiji.

Take your joy where you can find it.