Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Fast and slow.

Years ago, in the bad-old-days of New York City, I got a pro-bono assignment to work on preventing suicide among New York City cops.

Our key contact was an Inspector called Ray Kelly, who later on became New York’s 41st Police Commissioner.

This was in the mid-80s when New York was averaging between five and seven murders a week and police sirens filled the city’s noise-scape the way swallows chirp when they come back to Capistrano. If, in those years, you hadn’t been burgled or mugged or assaulted yourself, you knew someone who had been.

My partner and I spent a day with Inspector Kelly going all over the city and trying to learn what it was that drove cops to put a bullet in their temple. We naturally assumed the daily threat of a violent death was to blame.

When we asked Kelly, we found out it wasn’t that at all.

“It’s boredom,” Kelly said. “It’s long days of dullness, weeks of dullness, punctuated by six seconds of absolute terror.”

I thought about this conversation today—some 32 years after it took place, as I’m sitting in a sandalwood-scented conference room, looking at wardrobe etc. prior to a pre-pro meeting.

A lot of life is working incredibly hard. But a lot life also includes a lot of downtime. In fact, when humans were essentially agricultural creatures it was thought they could feed their families—assuming they had decent land—on as few of three or four hours a day of work. The toil we today associate with farming comes primarily from the trade switching from subsistence to capitalistic.

In fact until the advent of factory work, time-clocks and efficiency-experts, it was unusual for people to work all of the time they were at work.

I think if you get right down to it, we’re like animals. We chase down a gazelle, that takes an hour or so. Then we spend the rest of the day, maybe the rest of the week, eating and belching.

My point is fairly simple. You have to learn to go with the flow of work. There are times of intensity, and other times where things are pretty flat-lined with occasional spikes that you have to adjust to.

There are days when you write your fingers to the bone.

And others where you wait till the work comes at you.

You have to learn to regulate your heart-rate the way fish do. Sometimes you're best-suited resting on the bottom of the pond, slowing your pulse down to four beats a minute and preserving your sanity.

It'll make life so much easier when the opposite end of the spectrum comes into play.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Missing Whiskey.

It was hot as hell in New York on Saturday. Even with the air-conditioning on full-blast in the apartment, I didn't feel much like moving. 

Whiskey would have none of my lethargy, of course. Her icy nose on my back pushed me out of bed and in short order we were piled into my 1966 Simca 1500 and headed up to a secluded beach I've found in Westchester County--the suburbs just north of the city.

Whiskey galloped out of the old car and made for the beach. I grabbed her rubber duck out of the trunk and hurled it underhand, thirty yards into the sea.

Without even checking the water temperature, Whiskey careened for the surf and swan for her toy. She was back in a minute or so and at my wife's side, gobbling down her breakfast by the sea.

For the next 90 minutes, I wrassled Whiskey's rubber duck from her maw and hurled it into the brine. Whiskey leapt through the low waves and retrieved it, befitting her breed.

After some moments, a few other dogs arrived. A chocolate lab named Penny. A giant brown Newfoundland named Lulu. And a black lab named Lucien--the pride of her French owner.

The dogs played in the sea, each to her own toy.  An orange ball each for Penny and Lucien, and assorted tree branches for Lulu.

Now, Whiskey is headed off to Rodrigo's house for the week. I'll be shooting out in LA and my wife is coming to visit friends and relatives. Whiskey stays with her dog walker.

He won't take her to the beach. But he's liberal with the treats and she's happy with Rodrigo's children and his ample air-conditioning.

I'll miss her. 

I do already.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Humans. For better or worse.

One of the endemic failures of our modern marketing world is how in the name of humanity we have misread human behavior.

My top-most example of this is open-plan offices. Office space is the number one cost for many businesses. Open-plan seating would reduce costs. Pontificators, with wishful thinking, told us that community, collaboration and creativity would all be fomented if everyone was out and seated together at one giant table.

Those pontificators ignored a basic human truth.

People need a room of their own. They need a soupcon of space. A table that holds a picture of their children. The ability to control the lighting.

Things have been this way since the beginning of humans some 200,000 years ago.

I remember years ago reading a book—I forget which of the many he wrote—by the eminent urbanist William H. Whyte. He noticed that when people sit in a public space, they almost always reposition their chair before sitting. Look for yourself next time you’re in Bryant Park or some outdoor plaza, or even in a conference room down on six.

People move their seats not to better situate their chair or their ass. They do it to claim a space and make it their own. It's a semiotic thing if you want to get all deep-dish about it.

You don’t have to like that people need space. But you can’t make grand assumptions and proclamations about what people need without studying humans. Anthropological and evolutionary facts don’t usually align with marketing objectives, and marketers can't make them. No matter how hard or how often they try.

You might see the same thing if you think back to the early days of the digital revolution. I think the revolution started with someone saying advertising costs too much.

So the pontificators came in and said, digital advertising is cheap, and people will interact with it. Then they went further and said, on social, people will talk about your brand. They'll do our work for us. Even further, they said, people want to watch badly produced content on your brand if it’s well-targeted enough.

All of that ignored what people really think about brands or how much.

All of that ignored a simple human truth. People don’t care. They hardly care about their own loved ones, much less Saran Wrap.

So, advertising must make us care. It's really that simple.

Carl Ally used to say, "Advertising must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." 

Do you really think that's changed? Have humans changed more in the last 20 years than they did in the previous 200,000?

But making people care is hard work, and expensive and unpredictable.

However, that’s the cost of marketing. At least in a world inhabited by real people.

P.S. A short movie on chairs.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

I don’t trust….

Random reflections on language, character and people and institutions I don’t trust.

I don’t trust so-called social media experts who don’t have social media followings.

I don’t trust people who have titles that don’t explain what they do.

I don’t trust phone companies that tell you’re they’re preparing for the future (but they can’t answer current complaints.)

I don’t trust phone companies period.

Or cable companies.

I don’t trust banks that ripped off customers, hoodwinked the global economy, then sponsor free Shakespeare in the park and expect applause.

I don’t trust decks that have more than seven pages of set- up.

I don’t trust celebrity chefs.

I don’t trust brand love.

I don’t trust anything said by the US military. Since the end of WWII we’ve engaged in a series of major wars and we have yet to be told the full truth about any of them.

I don’t trust all-staff emails.

I don’t trust working from home.

I don’t trust low-fat cookies.

I don’t trust anyone who has an initial before their first name. Like J. Pilkington Schnoot.

I don’t trust anyone who has a set of initials after their name if it’s not common knowledge what those initials stand for.

I don’t trust people who don’t like golden retrievers.

I dont trust online surveys, quizzes or lists of things like best retirement cities or coolest cars of the 80s.

I don’t trust major corporations who put their names on public spaces. Or people, too, for that matter.

I don’t trust Wikipedia. It conveniently ignores any history that isn’t sunny.

I don’t trust advertised offers. Especially from phone and cable companies.

I don’t trust internet speed claims.

I don't trust anyone or any company that tells me I'm in charge.

I don’t trust anyone who says, ‘we’ll get back to you.’

I don’t trust anyone who uses the words or phrases curate, content, agile, scrum, circle-back or regroup. There are clearer, less-trendy words available.

I don’t trust ‘the wellness’ industry. I know it’s really about sickness.

I don’t trust pharma ads, drug companies, or the people responsible for pharma ads.

I don’t trust local television news. They are using story-selection to manipulate you.

I don’t trust lean corned beef. It’s supposed to be fatty.

I don’t trust motorcades of seven black SUVs blaring sirens through the city. Probably a string of petty bureaucrats flexing their muscles.

I don’t trust any commercial that ends or starts with
"I'm _________ and I approved this message."

I don’t trust people who don’t answer yes or no questions.

I don’t trust people who answer questions beginning with the word so.

I don’t trust people who answer questions by saying ‘that’s a really good question.’

I guess this all proves my daughters correct. I really am entirely too judgey.