Friday, December 21, 2018

Looking ahead by looking back.

At a time when everyone and his cousin is writing down their New Year’s Resolutions, I was about to begin to do the same. Then I thought a bit about it and, frankly, reconsidered.

A lot of the new things we are thinking about doing in 2019 are not necessarily better, simply because they’re new. In fact, I think in many cases, the old ways of doing things were superior to how we do things now.

I know that marks me as retrograde and stuck in my ways. But I don’t really care. For instance, for 240 years in our country, from 1776 to 2016, we elected leaders who mostly had proven track-records of experience. For most of that time we believed in professionals, in science, in thought and rigor. The new ways, too often, seem to me to cut against those beliefs. They urge us to try something different, to make a radical leap into the unknown, to roll the dice when we should instead be planning and thinking.

So I’m not making New Year’s Resolutions.

I’m making Old Years’ Resolutions.

I’m reaffirming my commitment—no matter how it infuriates people at my agency—to do things the right way, the proven way, the tried and true way. Maybe this speaks too loudly to my innate conservatism. Or maybe I’ve been around the sun more than most people, and I’ve seen what works and why.

2019 Old Years’ Resolutions:

1.    When I’m writing copy, I will turn off the internet and put away my phone. Also when I’m told it’s due in 20 minutes, I will resist the urging of my responsibility gene and take at least twice that long.

2.    When I’m reviewing work, I will leave my phone on my desk. Work is better when we are not distracted.

3.    I will continue to believe in the old-fashioned remnants of agencies-past. Written briefs, the proofreading department, planners. Other people can cut-corners if that’s their modus operandi. As Bartleby said, “I would prefer not to.”

4.    I will continue to abide by the old maxim that carpenters used to say, “Measure twice; cut once.” That is proper planning saves time and effort.

5.    I will not relent on the right ways to do things. Copy must be in the right font. Spelled correctly. Properly punctuated. Oh yeah, and thoughtful and as brief as possible.

6.    I will continue to refuse to go to things called scrums. Unless I am duped into an impromptu rugby match.

7.    Likewise, I will, as much as anyone can in our Orwellian universe, assiduously avoid jargon.

8.    Worse, when someone says something jargon-laden and therefore incomprehensible, I will continue to commit that greatest of modern sins: I will ask them what they mean, and wait for a clear, English explanation.

9.    I will continue to read. Despite this being ‘the golden age of video,’ reading is still the best, fastest and most absorbing way to learn. And it brings peace and restoration to your brain.

10. I will continue to laugh and to be funny. And to care about others, their lives, feelings and careers. Those are all things that make us human, and I refuse to lose them, no matter how shrill and autocratic our industry becomes.

11. One more thing, I will never use the word hustle. Unless I'm    talking for some unforeseen reason about the 70s dance        craze.

If doing all this fails to get me fired, estranged or ostracized, I will continue writing Ad Aged. Even if you all stop reading it. It helps make me who I am.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Poetry corner.

As this benighted year comes to an end, I don't have a lot of blogging left in me. I will write for the next couple of weeks only sporadically--since the last thing you want when you're away from the office, away from the business and warm in the ample bosom of family and friends, is a visit from me. 

So today, no withering critique of the industry. No lucid prose. Nothing but a bit of bad political doggerel. 

A little over ten years ago, I wrote this poem about Ben Bernanke, former chair of the Federal Reserve.

You must admire Ben Bernanke.
His judgment's shrewd, his suits are swanky,
Give him 700 bil or he'll get cranky.
But do not worry, he'll say "thank-ee."

Today, I have this Nashian-ditty on corrupt former Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke.

Ryan Zinke,
Ryan Zinke.
His eyes are beady
His eyes are blinky.
His moral compass
is corrupt and dinky.
In short, you'll find him
Very stinky.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

As time goes by.

The second installment of my haphazard and arbitrary selection of some great commercials of the past. IMHO, many of these spots are foundational--they set the standard for thousands of commercials to come.  What's more, in our industry's short-sighted, yet whole-hearted embrace of the latest ephemeral trend, virtually no one in the business today knows these spots even existed. Yet, again IMHO, they're better, way better, than anything on the air today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rejection. And how to receive it.

This post will be about six times as sappy as usual.

A long-time friend from the industry wrote to me not long ago. Like me, he is in advertising parlance as old as dirt. And though he's had a long and storied career, winning a veritable truckload of awards--and new business, when he reached 58, he was dismissed, regarded as "too old."

Mind you, Picasso painted "Guernica" at around the same age. So you can create one of the great paintings of all time, but you're considered too long in the tooth to write a banner ad.
Picasso was 55 when he painted Guernica. Most agencies would have considered him too old to re-size a banner ad.
In any event, it's been three years now since, let's call him Paul, was let go. Since then Paul's been freelancing 
steadily--he's barely had an off-week. Paul's also in that time probably interviewed for senior creative positions at twenty or two-dozen agencies.

At some, he's been too senior. At others, they'll tell him he's not digital enough. Most just say they decided to move in another direction.

Paul wrote me not long ago in response to my post yesterday on rejection. 

"I have learned so much over the years," he wrote. "When I was in my 20s and 30s, I was at [the best agency in NY] for 17 years. Then, I was never rejected. 

"Now that I'm so much better than I was, now that I've freelanced at so many places and have so much to offer, I am rejected all the time.

"Naturally, I've learned from these rejections. You learn not to take them personally. You learn to network from them. You learn to keep going. And you never know who's going to pass your name on. Still, it sucks."

"Look, Paul," I wrote (here comes the sappy part.) "There are certain things rejection cannot take from you. 1) A 30+ year history of doing good work. 2) A reputation based on 30 years of honesty and decency. 3) Your integrity.

"Steve Hayden used to tell me, 'The best revenge is a better ad' Maybe in your case, the best revenge is a better job. 

"You will get a job. You will find a place to hang your hat. Or you'll find a way to continue freelancing and returning home at night with a paycheck and your self-respect. 

"No one person can forestall or overcome the ageism of our world, and the general disregard for experience and knowing how work works. Not to mention inspiring people, gaining the confidence of clients and exhibiting taste and intelligence. None of those foundational things seem to matter anymore. 

"We're living in Macbethian times....fair is foul and foul is fair. Truth is a lie. War is peace. Poverty is wealth. Inequality is justice. We're being struck by it too, knowledge is bad, like a cosmic bolt from Tartarus.

"But as Edison said--and here's the sappy part, 'You have not failed. You've just found a thousand places that aren't right for you.' Failure only comes when you give up. And I know you won't. At least you never have."

I know Paul will go home tonight, as he goes home many nights sad and disconsolate. Everyone wants to be at a place where they feel they can have an impact. Everyone wants acceptance. Sometimes, I suppose, you can't get anything more than a paycheck.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Rejection. And how to deliver it.

Years ago I read something about the poet and editor, George Hitchcock. Because I was intrigued, I went onto Amazon and bought his book "One Man Boat." You can find it here.

My favorite part of Hitchcock's compendium was these elegant--and funny--rejection slips he'd send to poets whose work he couldn't use.

I guess there's something to learn in these from those of us in the business. 

Often, a large part of our jobs is rejecting work that's presented to us. 

It's sometimes nice if you can do that with a bit of charm, gentleness and even wit.

Generally speaking, people are still upset, no matter how you reject them. But they might feel a bit less disconsolate if you treat them with a smidgen of decency and respect.

Here are all the Hitchcock rejection slips I could find. They make me laugh.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Read it and weep.

I read a sentence just now from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof in “The New York Times.”

It was a sentence of such power that it reminded me of something much of our industry (and our world) has forgotten.

Words matter.

They move people.

They inspire.





Not all words. Not any words. But the right words.

Kristof was writing about the on-going American-backed carnage in Yemen. Here’s how he started his column:

“I’m giving up most of my column space today to introduce you to Abrar Ibrahim, a 12-year-old girl in Yemen who weighs just 28 pounds.”

A 12-year-old girl…who weighs just 28 pounds.

Ten powerful, shocking words.

You can read Kristof’s entire article here.

On the subject of the power of words, there was another opinion piece in last Monday’s Times, on the 100th Anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth. It was the headline  and subhead of the article that got me thinking about this topic, they read:

"The Writer Who Destroyed an Empire. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, born Dec. 11, 1918, did more than anyone else to bring the Soviet Union to its knees."

You can read the item here. About a book that led to the ruination of the USSR, "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch."

It’s painfully au courant these days to minimize the impact and power of words.

We routinely see ad after ad with no copy. Those are usually the ads that win awards.Copywriters hear every day that “no one reads anymore.” It's another spurious, unfounded allegation in an era that seems steeped in them like the Gowanus is steeped in toxins.


I’ve viewed entire agency reels that are wordless, that are devoid of copy.


And not an ad goes by when we aren’t commanded to ‘make it shorter.’


This is not my last gasp attempt to make advertising and communications prolix. It is merely my belief that the right words can—if given room and consideration, have amazing, transformative power. Of course, I am not advocating against visual ideas and representations. Just asserting that we should not overlook words because of an assertion that no one reads or cares.


The problem is, no one gives anything room and consideration anymore. More and more often we are often both managed and governed by tweets. We speak and read and write with half-thoughts and ill-formed phrases.

Mostly because we’re too harried to actually think. Or it's not fashionable. Or whole swaths of our world have simply grown lazy and gotten out of the habit.

I believe people can think. Especially if they can be convinced that there is something worth thinking about.

We'd be better off as a "culture" spending ten minutes a day reading William Faulkner, or Eudora Welty than a spewing, bubble-brained Trumpublican.

Not long ago I read a story about Bill Bernbach.

A client asked him why there was so much copy, because after all no one reads copy.

Bernbach replied. “Ten percent of people read copy. That’s who I wrote it for.”

Thursday, December 13, 2018

I meet Gulliermo Sisto.

When I joined the Seraperos de Saltillo so many summers ago, when I was alive with the full-sinewy bloom of muscle and youth, the equipment manager, bus-driver and third-string catcher, Gordo Batista brought me to my locker on the afternoon I had joined the team.

It was the last locker in a long row of lockers, and a well-shellacked wooden bench was bolted to the floor just about two feet away. The bench ended right in front of my cubby, and there was no one in the space just to my right, so I had a bit of extra room on either side of me, and a little room between me and the rest of the guys, which suited me just fine. I've always liked a little room between me and the rest of the guys.

Above my head ran an insulation-wrapped pipe painted mint-green. It hissed now and again with steam and dripped rusty water through the insulation and onto the dull concrete floor. It didn’t drip enough to cause a disturbance, but there was semi-permanently a tent-shaped yellow piso mojado sign sitting astride the small puddle that collected just alongside a steel grate like Emma Lazurus’ new Colossus.

Late one afternoon, I was about twenty games into my 140-game season playing el esquina caliente, the hot corner, for the Seraperos, Hector Quesadilla, my manager, and Gordo Batista walked over to my spot with a third man of similar hoary vintage. It was still about three hours, maybe four before game time, and virtually none of the other boys were yet in the clubhouse. I’ve always gotten places early and settled in. I did back then, I do today.

“Jorge Navidad,” Hector called out. “This is the great Gulliermo Sisto, el Cohete de Coahuila, the Coahuila Rocket.”

I shook the old man’s hand. He looked hardly like a rocket to me. He had a squat, Indio build, with too-broad, heavily muscled shoulders and short, bowed legs.

“It was many years ago,” Sisto said, “that I was a rocket.”

I laughed.

“He jugado durante 50 clubes de bĂ©isbol,” he went on. “I have played for 50 baseball clubs.

“Many seasons, I played for six or seven clubs. And I have never made the big leagues,” the old man said. “I played with Hector Quesadilla, the great Hector Quesadilla, when he was a young man and was coveted in the Major Leagues. The Pirates of Pittsburgh wanted him, not Clemente.”

He unloaded his stuff from his blue-green team duffle bag into his locker. His spikes looked like a boxer who had lasted too many rounds in the ring, against a Frazier, or a Louis, or a Marciano. Someone who would pound you and cut you.

“I played and played and played. For club after club. In cities that have now been reduced to towns. And in towns that have grown into cities. In towns where the air has grown brown and sulfurous. I have been playing in the league since 1948.”

That was a full ten years before I was born. I looked at his glove as he unpacked it. It was one of the old models with short, stubby fingers like sausage from Wisconsin. It was like the glove my father had used when we had catches when I was a boy.

We dressed alongside each other, getting ready for some warm-ups before that evening’s game.

“Here’s the thing,” he said, studying me.

“Baseball I have been playing for 28 seasons. 28 seasons for 50 different clubs. Frocities you have never heard of. From cities,” he rubbed my cheek with his hand, “from cities that haven’t seen a white face since the Conquistadores left. Old cities, sad cities, broken cities, small cities that are no more than a collection of broken shacks.

“I have played everywhere. Always trying to do what was asked of me. When a team needed a second-baseman, I played second. An arm from the bullpen, I would be in the bullpen. Pinch running, pinch hitting. Playing outfield. Or just riding the pine just in case.”

“50 teams,” I said dumbly. “I didn’t know there were 50 teams.”

“There are a million teams,” he answered, lacing his spikes. “Good teams and bad teams. Big teams and small teams. Maybe for each of them I will someday play.”

I laughed at that.

“Here is the truth, I will tell you, Jorge Navidad.”

We were dressing now, lacing up our black leather spikes that would clack clack on the concrete as we left the clubhouse and trotted up the ramp to the field. In moments, we stood thirty or forty feet apart and did what ballplayers have been doing since they were using stones rather than horsehide: we tossed and limbered up with a light catch.

“I was never much of a ballplayer,” he said. “But I had a secret that I learned many decades ago.”

We exchanged the ball a dozen times. Then a dozen more.

“My secret,” he said, “is a simple one. And Hector tells me that you, too, have the gift. It is the gift of quiet. The gift of seeing the field. The gift of hiding what you have and setting up decoys so no one knows where you keep your failings.”

“Hiding,” I repeated dumbly.

“That is the secret. To hide what you have. To hit to the opposite field. To hesitate, then take the extra base. To set up decoys.”

We were deep in a rhythm now. Catching, throwing, catching, throwing like the diamond version of a perpetual motion machine. He threw with a sweet sweep of his right arm and had a pop on his tosses. Maybe he was showing off.

“I was never much good,” Guillermo went on. “But the game I love. So, I play, always hoping for one more game. Always looking to find an angle.”

This time, he zipped one in. It popped in my glove and stung my hand. El Cohete, I thought.

"Maybe this is my time," he said, “maybe this will be my time.” And then he jogged off—tilting slightly to the left—into the coming twilight.