Friday, August 30, 2019

I problems.

Many many years ago when mammoths were still wooly and homos were mostly erectus, I worked with an art director who was really a very smart guy. We were kids at that point and he might have had 15 months experience while I might have had 15 minutes. He was wiser than I in the ways of the business.

One afternoon we had to present something to our bosses. My partner, let’s call him Craig, did most of presenting.

“We were thinking this so we did that. Then we thought about that, and that led us to this.” And so on.

When Craig finished, I said to him, “You know, you did most of the work, but you always credited it to both of us. Thank you.”

Craig said to me something I’ve never forgotten. “There’s no I in advertising. Sometimes you’re going to carry me. And sometimes I’m going to carry you. It will even out. We have to all support each other.”

These days, maybe it’s the Bombast of our Trumpian, self-promoting and self-aggrandizing era, the pronoun “I” has forged a comeback. I has charged to the front like a Derby winner who was 15 lengths behind coming into the home-stretch.

It sucks.

This is not an I business.

Even if you have the idea yourself.

You might have gotten it from something you heard somewhere. You might have been pissed about something you read in a brief, and that anger led you to something good. You might have remembered a joke or a commercial you saw nine years earlier. The idea—“your” idea came from someone and somewhere else.

I in advertising is the mark of a scoundrel. It probably is in all of life. You know, it takes a village.

Watch out for I.

If you hear it too often, it’s not good for you.
BTW, yesterday was Charlie "Bird" Parker's 100th Birthday. 
Salt Peanuts is in order.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The biggest compliment I ever got. Ever.

If you’ve been in the business long enough to make a couple dozen trips around the sun, you come to realize that awards, trophies and even compliments spread about as fast  as Chlamydia when the fleet's in.

I guess if I were a sociologist, I'd say that such laudatory artifacts are a social lubricant of sorts. They're little lies we exchange with each other so we all keep plugging away, often for minimal recompense and even less psychic satisfaction.

Nonetheless, you have to be gracious when you get a compliment. Gracious but skeptical.

After all, Newton's Third Law as applied to advertising might be, "For every motive, there is an equal and opposite ulterior motive."

Heavy shit, George.

Today, after a singularly crappy day in a long career marked by singularly crappy days, I had a small brain spasm. All at once the best compliment I have ever received in my almost 35 dumb years in our trade popped into my head.

A while back, I had worked for a short while--amid my many other tasks--helping out on a pitch, working with a small bunch of people I liked and, more important, respected.

Even more important, and more rare, they liked and respected me.

Holy-alignment-of-the-planets, Batman.

The pitch was for an exceedingly complex enterprise software product. Something everyone was scared of (it could cost people their jobs) and no one understood how it worked or what it did.

I had a dopey idea to write a kids' book about the product. I'd explain how it worked. Tame some of the fear. And show how the software actually helped people get more out of their jobs--not lose their jobs.

I worked with a brilliant art director who made it better. And a brilliant CCO who had the brilliance to leave me and it alone. 

Not a lot of people have that restraint. Most are like misbehaving schnauzers. They relish peeing in your yard, just to let you know they were there. It's something dogs, and insecure people do.

During the pitch, I was brought in to read the story to the prospective clients. They laughed where they should have. And smiled throughout. 

They actually applauded when I finally read "The End."

Then a week later, we had won the account.

One of my new clients sent me a note: 

"I read your book to my seven-year-old. She said to me, 'Mommy, I finally know what you do.' Thank you."

I'll take that over all the Cannes Lions in the world.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Of Cabbages and Kings. (And Content.)

I think if I hear one more time that content is King, I might leave the world once and for all and finally join a monastery in Outer-Inner Fuckmeistan.

Content is a catchall term that essentially means anything that can be written, spoken, photographed, recorded or filmed.

A meaning that is so broad it’s meaningless.

You might as well say “the letter S is king.” Since 99% of all content contains the letter S.

S has no intrinsic value just because it is a vital letter. Content has no intrinsic value just because it’s blasted out willy-nilly.

(Yes. I’m speaking to you, Gary Blatherchuk. No one cares about your meaningless Hallmark homilies. And btw, buy a razor. You look like a bum.)

I’ll tell you what is King, though.

Good is King.

Something that moves people is King.

Something that interests people is King.

Something that informs people is King.

Something that changes a mind or begins to form an emotional connection is King.

Something that makes you laugh, or snort Pepsi through your nose is King.

Memorable. Useful. Touching. King.

Banal is banal.

Cheap is cheap.

There’s nothing regal about them.

An onslaught of non-stop, low-quality crap is no more King than Donald Trump is Presidential.

For as long as humans have been sentient, let’s say (and I’m not anthropologist) since the Lascaux cave paintings from 17,000 years ago, content has been about adding something—some creativity, some point of view, some purpose to what you are creating.

   This is a pile of rocks.                                                This is more than a pile of rocks.

Just as you can’t call a random pile of rocks a building, you really can’t say that 99% of content rises to that standard. Rises to become something worthwhile.

I don’t know where this notion came from that brands need to be “always on,” and “always transmitting” crap.

Everyone I know is completely time-starved. I'd like brands to leave me the fuck alone.

Why do I need your empty shit? Most people hardly even have time to take a shit.

I happen to think some very cagey person developed this notion that content is King as a full-employment-plan for imbeciles.

And it appears to be working.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

New York, New York.

One of the delightful things about living in New York, any large city I suppose, but maybe more-so in New York because of the city's rapid rate of change, is that you're always seeing something you've never seen before. 

Even if you've seen it 100 times.

Last night I went downtown to Tribeca to meet a friend and an expensive glass of wine. Tribeca, for those non-New Yorkers in my vast readership, stands for the TRIangle BElow CAnal. It's about the coolest part of town now, with scores of old cast-iron industrial buildings, now reincarnated as $17 million homes for bankers and their usual complement of four blonde children in fine French clothing.

I used to have clients, or jury duty, in the neighborhood, but now I rarely venture into the area. In fact, whenever I'm down there, I feel like a hick. 

I'm from the gridded part of New York. Where the streets and avenues make orderly, mathematical sense. That part of Manhattan, its geographic bulk, was laid out on a giant map way back in 1811, when I was just a young copywriter. Like the city of Brasilia, much of Manhattan was planned even before people lived above 14th Street. 

Tribeca is older. It's streets, while not quite European, are more cowpaths than straight lines.

So when I go downtown, I'm out of sorts. I hardly know the difference between Murray Street and Warren Street. In all, it leaves me feeling like a hayseed.

Anyway, I arrived early to meet my friend so I took a walk around and tried to notice things. I'm good at noticing things--call it the joy of paranoia. I'm especially good at reading old bronze signs and the starving, hysterical, naked scrawls of raw graffiti. 

No point today. Just a little random reportage.

And some things I saw when I was in New York. But essentially a tourist out of town.