Friday, May 31, 2019

Slag-heaps and advertising.

About six-million years ago, just as the last dinosaurs were exiting Riverside Park for the local neighborhood tarpits, I had a college friend who lived about 40 feet down the hall from me. One November I had nowhere to go for a school break and he invited me over to his parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner.

Randy was from coal-country in central Pennsylvania, a thousand-person hamlet called Trevorton, just outside of the small city of Shamokin, PA.
A slag-heap at one end of Trevorton.

The great Ben Shahn's view of slag.

Trevorton was a coal town and like most of the entire area, the town itself was built on top of an anthracite coal seam. The town's one street was lined with small company homes that tilted this way and that, undulating with the wig-wag of the street that had sunk here and there due to the digging beneath it. At the end of the town's one street was a giant mound of coal-mining detritus, the leftovers from decades of digging, called a slag-heap.

Some weeks ago I read an article in "The New York Times'" long-running series on Privacy. The writer recommended switching to a browser called Brave--it would eliminate cookies, tracking and banner ads from my life. I leaped at that like a wolf at a wounded sheep, or Hank Aaron after a belt-high fastball.

Yesterday morning as I went online, I noticed this information on my Brave home page. In about a month I had been sent nearly 80,000 ads.

About three years ago I was shooting some spots with Joe Pytka. One of the celebrities we were filming was the director Ridley Scott. Pytka and Scott had a conference call that I was invited to listen in on. 

Of course when two lions get together there's a bit of competitiveness. Scott said something like, "I've shot 2,000  commercials in my life." Pytka responded, "I've shot 4,000."

I did some math in my head. If Pytka and Scott have had 40- year directorial careers, Pytka has shot on average two-commercials every week for 40 years. Scott, one. That's a lot of ads.

Yet in just a month, I've been assaulted by a twenty-times that amount just because I read the Times and the Journal online and check my Facebook and email a few times a day.  

In my lifetime in advertising there has always been crap. Crap, like rust, will outlast us all. 

Crap might be little animated hammers pounding your head for Anacin. People squeezing toilet paper and gushing. Bras that lift and separate to the delight of various bosoms. The stupid ass cable and phone company assaults on our intelligence and taste. People who spontaneously spin around, arms out-stretched in wheat-fields. The Chevy real people commercials. The asinine Toyota woman. There are too many to enumerate. 

I can't prove and won't assert that advertising today is dumber than it was when Scali, Ally, Levine, Ammirati, DDB, Backer and a few other purveyors of intelligent work were around.

But I do know this, empirically and from real-life experience. Advertising is too much with us. We pay for TV (which we never had to do for the first half of my life) then we pay again with our eyeballs. And there are probably twice as many ads per hour as there used to be.

The web is where creativity goes to die. In its roughly 20 years of existence, I've not yet seen an ad (they call them experiences now--ha ha) as moving, informative and involving as this from the Times.

The goal of enlightened agencies used to be to be more entertaining, better produced and better written than the content they were running amid. So the work they do for clients stands out. Now we just try to be louder.

That brings me back to the beginning of this long post:


Piling up crap.

Is that the business we're in?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Show me.

As much as sports were a big part of my life for a long time, I learned at a fairly early age that there was something about sports that annoyed the hell out of me.

Sure, I always enjoyed the challenge of hitting a round ball with a round bat. Or trying to bend a pitch past a batter. Or the excitement of beating a peg from the outfield. Or making one to catch a runner rounding third just before he scores. But despite all that, even when I was just twelve or ten, I knew that playing games was, for me, fundamentally empty, a waste of time and dumb.

I remembered where I was when I reached that conclusion. I was playing tackle football in the twilight hours after school let out. We were on a patch of scrubby grass--one of the last in the neighborhood that hadn't been concreted over so a Toyota City or a Home Depot or a Sizzler could set up shop.

There were just six or eight of us playing back-and-forth on the hardscrabble and, and this happens any time a game is played, an argument broke out. (As my old man would Borscht Belt, 'I went to a boxing match last night and a hockey game broke out.')

In any event we were arguing heatedly about a first-down or an interception or some fantasy infraction and I realized that when playing sports it doesn't matter having the best athletes on your team. If you want to win more than you lose, your safest bet is to have someone on your team who has a very loud voice and who argues indefatigably.

You win the arguments, you get the calls, you win the game. Right or wrong hardly ever enters into it. Good or bad even less so. To re-write Ecclesiastes, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. It mostly goes to people with the loudest voices."

The world, and of course our industry, is infected by the same imbecility. Or, should I say, I am infected (and affected) by it. 

Every day I see and hear dozens of pontificators shouting solipsisms about platitudes and falsehoods about truisms. My reaction to these onslaughts of bombast and bluster is usually: "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know what you mean by things like:"

a) We're employing a vectored hybrid strategy to energize the ecosystem

b) Our agile customer-centric approach will deliver long-tail benefits in the short-term

c) We are a team of digitally-savvy makers reimagining the role of content in content-free content marketing

Usually what I wind up thinking to myself is two things:

1) Why don't you speak a language I understand? 

2) Barring that, why not show me what you mean, what you've done in employing a hybrid strategy

I guess what frazzles me is that the world today--our business today--seems to be ruled by the loudness of assertive know-nothings. They shout, they pontificate, they spout at this conference or that and they're empaneled up the Yin-Yang, doing what? Shouting, pontificating, spouting.

They have an Amen-Chorus around them. They speak no known language and win more and more applause, promotions and money. They're on 30 under 30 lists. Fast-rising stars. 40 under 40. Strategists for a new tomorrow, today.

They are modern alchemists. Three-card Monte men playing with two cards. Purveyors of snake-oil, bunk, smoke and mirrors, all sizzle, no steak. I couldn't eat anyway. They make me lose my appetite.

The whole world is too timid to say what we're supposed to be say, "Yeah. But what have you done? Don't tell me how smart you are. Show me work--not trumped-up case study videos, not powerpoint slides, not made-up metrics--show me the work that worked.

I'm tired, very tired of flim flam. Bull shit. Crushing it. Killing it. Hustling the hustle in the non-stop bustle and using your muscle.

Do good ads. As good as the ones below.

Then let them speak for themselves.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The new George.

If you spend a minute a month on LinkedIn (and who doesn't) you'll shortly be besieged with about 72-thousand videos of people whose subsistence depends on making videos. 

These endlessly-long one-minute videos assault you with platitudes about the riches to be gained by churning out all-but-unwatchable videos on the riches to be gained by churning out all-but-unwatchable videos. 

I've suffered through a lot of these videos, not unlike a soldier during the Bataan Death March. My LinkedIn Content Death March lasts just 60 seconds or so, not 66 miles of the aforementioned, and though I'm usually seated in an expensive Aeron chair in patriarchy-ambient climate conditions, they are no-less-excruciating.

And they work.

Gary Vaynerchuk, spewing unshaven platitudes like a coked-out Hallmark card has millions of followers. And the winsome blonde, Shay Rowbottom (yes, that's her name) has been heralded by Shay Rowbottom as the next Gary Vaynerchuk, aka the male Shay Rowbottom. Here is one of Shay's videos.
So, today, marks my debut as an INFLUENZER--more than an influencer, I spew influence as viral as Influenza, ergo I am an INFLUENZER.

So here goes, a transcript of my first call-in show:

Hi, you're on the phone with Georgie T.

No way!

Yes way!!

No way!!!

Yes way!!!!

Holy crap, you're like my, like my, like my...

Don't even tell me anything. I know where you're at. Let me reimagine the reimagining of your life. You're probably going through a micro, macro, mucro issue. Amiright?

Holy crap, no way, you like read my mind.

Listen, this is about crushing it. You need to be fast, like fast fast. Mucro fast.

No way.

Yes way!!

You need to be fast. Go from 7AM to two in the morning every day. Nothing's going to happen if you don't make it happen. Make making things happen happen and things will start happening.

No way, I'm going mucro. And I don't even know what it means!

Yes way!!

And that, my friends, is why I'm not just an Influencer, I'm an INFLUENZER.

I'm gloomy. So sue me.

As a child of the 60s, I grew up with the spirit of rebellion coursing through my blood. Question Authority was Timothy Leary's credo and my whole generation subscribed to the dicta, "Don't trust anyone over 30."

Of all the changes I've seen in my life, the biggest change is we have lost our sense of rebellion, of outrage, of anger. 

Whether it's the stealing of our identities by the Privacy for Profits Plutocrats, the despoiling of our planet by coal-companies, the petro-chemical industry and the Trumpublican party, or the anti-labor agenda of the Koch Brothers-John Birch-Taft-Hartley radical right, not to the mention wage-and security depressing oligarchs who control nearly every industry including our own, you no longer have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You have only a world where you pay taxes, abandon privacy and die early and in debt.

We accept all these assaults on ourselves and on humanity with the dull complacence of a tall man in a middle-seat on a coast-to-coast flight. It hurts, but what can you do.

Mourning Sedition, a new, sporadic feature of this humble blog will encourage you to speak up, to call bullshit, to assert your humanness against the prevailing kakistocracy, who regard you and treat you as their modern-day serfs.

It will probably accomplish absolutely nothing except maybe two things.

1. It will further cement my status as vox clamantis in deserto.

2. Maybe it will get you to look up the Latin above. Or at least the word sedition.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The old ball game.

It's been a long couple of weeks.

To quote the early 20th Century poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay,

My candle burns at both ends; 
It will not last the night; 
But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-- 
It gives a lovely light!
That's a round-about way of saying I've been going full-tilt. I've been writing scripts just about as fast as I can type. In fact, I don't even like to think of how many in how few minutes. It will only make me despondent.

After a while, after the griping and the bitching and the why-did-I-not-go-into-dentistry like my Aunt Sylvie advised me to, after all that, and the exhaustion, there's something else.

It reminds me somehow, of being in a close ballgame and hitting a line-drive off their best arm into the gap. It's a clean double, to be sure, but as you're chugging into second, you see the third base coach waving you on like you're a run-away train.

Your legs are tired. You've played seven games in five nights, and maybe you had too many cervezas the night before. Maybe you slept in a cramped hotel room on the road with a valley down the middle of the mattress, and Freddy Fender playing too loud on the radio in the next room. Maybe it took you nine hours to sleep five. 

But regardless, you have a job to do. So you're at the ballgame, tired like a Bracero but somehow, muscle memory maybe, you've hit one between their leftfielder and their centerfielder. Now you're running full-out like a linebacker after a fumble. You're pulling into second--a stand-up two-bagger is good enough for you, but you're being waved on by a third base coach flapping wings his like a coked-up toreador, so you put your head down and run, sliding into third and you hear el arbitro--the umpire yell "quieto," safe!

And there you are standing atop the bag. Your old flannel uniform sweat-stained, dirty and torn. Tired as an old oak. Breathing through your mouth and gulping for air through the humidity. Tired enough to die.

But you hit a triple.

And it feels good. 

Work is like that sometimes.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I don't believe you.

Image result for popeye sez whoMaybe the world has always been this way and these days I'm just noticing it more. It seems that today, in the wise words of Bob Hoffman, is the"The Golden Age of Bullshit."

During a time when there is more content than ever before, there is correspondingly less accountability than ever before.
There's so much crap being propagated, so many "services" being trumpeted, so many drums being beaten, that no one has time, or the energy, to examine the truthfulness of anything.

I half feel I could create a website that says this: 

George Tannenbaum
The world's only Nobel Prize-winning copywriter

And I could get away with it. Who's gonna check? Before long people will be contacting me and either trying to get me to pay them $199 to be included into some spurious edition of "Who's Who," or asking me for advice on how they can be nominated for a similar honor.

A friend, Claudia Caplan, just sent me a putative suicide note. Claudia's despondency can be attributed to a solicitation she just received. It's on something called Evidence-Based Creative and includes not a single shred of evidence despite its name. 
Evidence-Based Creative
In a world in which media and creative are converging, "Evidence-Based Creative" is an ethos that ________applies to everything we do. This guiding principle is rooted in the notion that digital media and creative perform best when data insights inform not just media decisions but creative decisions as well. These insights should be timely, not 6 weeks post-campaign buried in a half-read wrap-report, but live, in real time where it really counts. 

Join the evidence-based creative webinar and hear from ____________l, Head of _________, on how to use a range of tools to accomplish this type of live feedback, from facial coding analysis to establish the emotional impact of video ads, to multivariate testing models offering deep audience specific insights about creative performance, to fully automated machine learning enabled Dynamic Creative Optimization making personalized messaging truly scalable.
I spent four minutes on LinkedIn just now (actually LinkedIn could be called BlurtOut) and found the following four assertions. They're sales calls, really, posing as "journalism" or worse, statements of fact.

"Why Millennial And Gen Z Employees Are Really Leaving You"

"85% of consumers made in-app purchases last year, which makes mobile integration more critical than ever. Does your brand have the right tools in place?"

"Attention all recent grads and folks updating their resumes here are some tips and tricks from yours truly!"

"Internet Marketing Company, ________, Explains the Benefits That A Community Engagement Plan Can Offer Your Small Business"

The constant inundation of statements like the above ruins people. Because they're repeated so often, and with such assertiveness, people not knowing any better start repeating them as gospel.

In an age where we can't even agree on things like measles vaccines and climate change--despite overwhelming scientific proof and overwhelming scientific consensus--we all of a sudden find ourselves being sold marketing folderol, balderdash and hokum and we're buying it.

Here are a few of the sort of baseless assertions that besiege me virtually every day.

"A more prominent logo will help our brand."

"No one reads copy anymore."

"Sending out reams of content influences people."

To quote the great philosopher, Popeye,"sez who?" In other words, when people start blathering, or pontificating, or getting up on their soap box, question everything.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Thanks, Rob Schwartz.

About a year or eighteen months ago, a guy I never met started commenting on this blog. The internet being what it is, I did about two-seconds of digging and found out that the guy, Rob Schwartz, was the CEO of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York.

Flattering, right?

We flirted back and forth for a couple months, then about a year or so ago, we met for non-alcoholic drinks. We seemed to hit it off.

A couple of weeks later, along with another friend, we did what older New Yorkers do. We met downtown at a communal table in a dingy Chinese restaurant and we shared soup dumplings and stories.

We laughed. A lot.

Since then, Rob and I have become friends. We trade stories, emails, and jokes when we have them. We have a good time together. As New Yorkers, as dads, as writers. As people who love the business and, for all my grumpiness, life itself.

Around the beginning of May, Rob asked me to appear on his Podcast: The Disruptor Series. Rob's kept up the podcast for nearly 40 episodes and going on three years. On "PodBean" alone, the series has been downloaded nearly 40,000 times.

Here's Rob's blush-inducing blurb on me:

George Tannenbaum is Disrupting The Youth

May 17, 2019
George Tannenbaum is a true Disruptor. In a business where the average age is 31, George, at twice that age, is thriving as a working ECD and creative leader. You can read about his experiences in his wonderful blog, AdAged. A Business Insider “Most Influential” blog, AdAged chronicles the daily life of advertising today and occasionally reminds us of the magic of yore. Sometimes sardonic. Often incisive. Always heartfelt. Listen in as Rob and George reveal the secrets of longevity and relevance in advertising and life.

Click here to hear it. If you have an hour and a pair of headphones, you might like it.  

At the very least, you'll hear a couple of new friends, who act like old friends, having a nice chat.

Thank you, Rob.

And thank you, dear readers.
Hopefully for becoming dear listeners.

BTW, for all my negativity about the silliness of social media, blogging has worked for me. I am more popular and well-known than ever-before in my life. And it's because of Ad Aged.

That said, Ad Aged has only become popular because I have worked at it relentlessly. Writing on average more than a post a day for nearly 12 years. And generally speaking, those posts have been qualitatively pretty good, at least in my opinion.

My conclusion from this is fairly simple. Social media can be worthwhile if you have something worthwhile to say and say it with regularity. 

Like most things, it doesn't just happen. You have to work at it.

On the other hand, if like most social media, you're banal and sporadic, in the words of my old man, you're just pissing up a rope.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Arthur Miller, hot dogs and Times Square.

My wife of 35 years does her best on the weekends to remove me from my near-hermetic tendencies and she tries myriad tactics to get me out of the house. To be clear, I have no problem getting up at 6:30, piling into my still-spry 1966 Simca 1500 powered by a three-liter BMW straight-six engine, but when darkness descends upon the city, the comfort of my quiet three-bedroom in Manhattan’s quietest neighborhood is hard for me to leave.

Can you blame me really? My week is filled with so many hours, so many demands, so many people pulling on my limbs for moments of my time and my particular and peculiar felicity, that it’s all I can do, when the weekend comes to tear myself from an ancient book, like “Don Quixote,” or “L’Morte d’ Arthur” or a more-recent history that attempts to explain the concussive and destructive world that's currently (and always) spinning off its axis.

These books, and the time to read them, are my escape from the all-too-present present. They are help me traipse away from a world, in Wordsworth’s words, “that is too much with us.”

But on Saturday night, my ever-loving twisted the bulk of my right ear and dragged me out of the apartment to see Annette Benning in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.”

I have always loved Arthur Miller. Ever since as a 14- or 15-year-old I read “Death of a Salesman,” and saw in the lead character, Willy Loman, traces of my father, I’ve always loved his work. Any person who can write, as Miller did in “Salesman,” “You can’t eat the orange and throw away the peel. A man is not a piece of fruit” is ok with me. Miller has figured out the universe, and for half-a-century I have loved his work. Attention to his work must be paid.

But still, leaving the friendly confines of my apartment for the mayhem, noise, filth and Elmos of Times Square, let’s just say I wasn’t quite as tractable as my wife wished I were.

We made it finally down to the American Airlines Theatre. You know, if you read this blog, how I feel about ostensibly public institutions named after corporate sponsors. Not only, from a marketing point of view do I believe such corporate narcissism to be a colossal waste of money, I actually wind-up despising the sponsoring brand more than I even had before.

Benning played across from the wonderful, Pulitzer-prize winning Tracy Letts. And while the show wasn’t exactly a laff-riot, it was well-acted, wonderfully-written and not nearly as dated as I feared. I guess clothing styles go out of business, but a moral system like Miller’s endures.

The play, however gloomy, was not what depressed me, however. What gets me every time I’m forced to walk through it is the Mall-ing of Times Square. The half-dressed tourists who walk about half-a-mile-an-hour, stop indiscriminately wherever they please, are unable to look up from their phones, except to say, “There’s a McDonalds,” or stop in one of the 97,000 Starbucks in the small radius around the Great White Way.

I’m never far, to be honest, from being a full-blown misanthrope, and walking through Times Square accelerates my descent into meanness like nothing else. In fact, every time my wife forces a Broadway show on me, I tell her “this is the last time I’m ever coming to Times Square.”

What really gets me is the bland-over-commercialization of the area. There's not a store that isn't part of a national chain, and the Disneyfication, the Mall-ing, the mogul-ling of New York is all-but complete. We have met the enemy and they are in real estate.

I remembered as I walked through the human cacophony an obituary from slightly over two decades ago of a man called Fred Hakim. Hakim ran a hot dog stand, the Grand Luncheonette, in pre-Disney Times Square. He ran it for something like 50 years. I found a short documentary on the last days of Hakim's seven-stool lunch counter. In that four-minute film, Hakim hopes he'll be allowed back to the crossroads of the world.


Like Arthur Miller might have written, 70 years ago, or 70 seconds, "Fuck the little guy. He just gets in the way of money."