Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thoughts from a Yogi.

Anyone who knows me, or even if you just read this humble blog, you probably know, I watch virtually no TV whatsoever.

Truth is, I'm too busy. I work too hard. I exercise too much. I write for myself, and as a studious but failed academic, I read serious books for more than an hour a day. That leaves no time whatsoever for watching this TV show or that. The same goes for podcasts.

This despite everyone and his cousin telling me about this mini-series or that, or this fabulous podcast or that. Some of this is my natural obstinance. I probably wouldn't put out a fire if someone told me I should. But some of this is my belief (and my experience.) Everything I've watched of late has been so filthy, so amoral and so violent--not to mentioned dumbed down--that I feel more comfortable making my way through National Book Award winners or the great landmark series of Greek and Roman histories.

These are among the most important books ever written. And as the world of today more and more aggressively forgets everything that went before, they're becoming more and more important. These books are each around 800 pages long and printed in eight point type. It's all I can do to lift them. Actually reading them is secondary.

Putting all that aside, it seems fair to say that more and more people are watching more and more TV and listening to more and more podcasts, and much of this media is of a quality that is higher than it's ever been, even if you go back to TV's first "Golden Age" and Playhouse 90.

In advertising--no matter what channel I'm working in--I operate under a simple assumption. It's something I gleaned from Phil Dusenberry late of BBDO, though I only met him once. 

The work you produce--even if you're producing something as dumb as a blog--should be better than the work that surrounds it.

That's a fairly obvious conclusion. If I owned a shoe-repair store, I'd like to offer better services than the guy down the block. If I owned a bookstore, I'd have to figure out a way to out Amazon Amazon.

Yet in advertising, while it seems everyone goes home and binge-watches 392 straight hours and 916 episodes of something starring Helen Mirren, or on the way to work they listen to something so riveting it's all they can do to talk about work while they're at work, we seem to be taking the opposite tack.

About four times a minute I hear something about how no one has an attention-span anymore, or no one can read, or everyone is so busy leaning forward they hardly have time to shit.

So, as an industry, rather than making our "shoe repair shop" better than its surroundings, we decide instead to open up more shoe shops. On the theory that it's ubiquity--everywhereness, that matters, not quality.

Our modus operandi seems to be, do more, put it in more places, put more in it, run it more often and that'll compensate for it's lack of quality.

I can't quite work through the logic of that approach. It's like eating breakfast at a hotel you're staying at and complaining that the muffins are stale. And the hotel's response is to give you a dozen more stale muffins, a bedspread made of stale muffins, a swimming pool filled with stale muffins, and a stale-muffin-scented email telling you how much they hoped you liked the stale muffins.

This seems the prevailing way of doing business because we seem to have decided that while quality matters when we watch TV or listen to podcasts or go to the movies, it doesn't matter when it comes to selling a product.

It seems the prevailing way of doing business because, let's face it, quality is hard. And quantity is easy.

Maybe it's this simple.

In this country we've had about 55 years of fast-food. 55 years of fast "love" and 20 years of fast, disposable clothing. 

We've grown so accustomed to fast and plenty replacing quality that we've allowed it to spill over into our business. Into our very way of lives. Most of us long for something fast and magical to take us away from today's cascading horrid realities. If relief does come, ever, it will come with a whimper, not a bang.

It all reminds me of something Yogi Berra was supposed to have said so many innings ago: "We're lost. But we're making good time."

Monday, November 25, 2019

Death by a billion lies.


When I started this blog 12 and a half years ago, I stuck some words at the top of the thing. I had always grown up with some pretty simple ideas about “branding.” First among those was let people know what you do.

So, like Time Magazine (before it was a kids magazine) used to say “Time. The weekly news magazine,” I wrote “Ad Aged: George Tannenbaum on the future of advertising, the decline of the English Language and other frivolities.”

Way back in 2007 when I started this thing, we were in the dire throes of the W. Bush/Cheney administration. They visited some Orwellian slaughter on our language by calling torture “enhanced interrogation.” And they called an undeclared war against an ill-defined and ever-changing enemy, a “War on Terror.”

Since those dark days, our collective human luminosity has dimmed even more. I’m not just talking about the nefarious Newspeak of the Republican zealots and their anti-Constitutional assaults on our sovereignty. I’m not just talking about the lies and ¼-truths that riddle every utterance and tweet of dear leader. I’m not just talking about the alternate reality propagated by almost half our population.

I’m talking, too, about our industry.

I’m talking about us.

I’m talking about you.

I’m talking about me.

To my mind, the fight for truth and honesty in communication is the fight for the English language. It’s a fight for words with meaning. It’s a fight for plain-speaking and honesty. It’s a fight for clarity and simplicity.

Every time we revert to the limp flaccid meaninglessness of ad speak, we lose even more of our waning souls. Every time we say “due diligence” or “ensure” or “bundled offer” or “solution” or “scalable” or “journey” or any one of hundred of other phrases, we are dripping living corpuscles out of our veins and into the gutter.

Every time we use language to deceive and obscure, every time our VOs speak so fast they can’t be understood, every time we say one thing and asterisk another, we are fomenting the destruction of honesty. And advertising has no value if it is not believed and trusted.

Not long ago I stumbled upon some highlighted copy that someone felt the need to committee-ize and rewrite in the service of legalese, ass-coverage and pool-pissery. While everyone’s stated aim these days is to be open and transparent, you could watch about ten year’s of commercials, or read a million online ads and not find a scintilla of anything truthful, anything that’s not screaming, anything that doesn’t bombard you with bombast and bullshit.

I know the word “no” has disappeared from the modern agency’s lexicon today. And it seems that so many clients have more people bent on assaulting the truth than we have agency people aware enough to try to protect it.

I don’t have an answer here.

I only know this. When words and pictures no longer have authentic meaning and truth behind them, when everyone is smiling and gushing while “swiffering” their floor, or smug and happy extolling the fucking scalability of their reliable digital ecosystem, the next sound we hear will be the sound of nothingness.

Because our jobs as marketers will be assumed by a giant data-fed and wholly all-consuming cliché machine, now with 78% less honesty.

It’s coming. And we’re not even kicking and screaming about it.

We’re complicit in our industry’s cliché-icide.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Hi, Mom.

It's Friday.

The end of a long and hellish week in my long and hellish career.

That's ok.

What's life, after all, without a modicum of hell?

Thomas Hobbes way back in the 17th Century said that life in times of war (when aren't we at war?) is "nasty, brutish and short." 

Jean Paul Sartre, said "Hell is other people."

Look at it this way, compared to them, I'm as cheery as Doris Day on uppers.

In any event, I'm out of the office for a week. Spending time in Saltillo, Mexico with my surrogate mother, Teresa, my old manager Hector's wife.

Teresa's been alone in the house I lived in so many summers ago when I played ball for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican League. Since Hector died five Christmases ago, Teresa has been getting along alone. But she's 88 now and while she's still spry, she'd be among the first to admit she's not getting any younger.

So my wife and I will be down in Saltillo for a week. Hugging Teresa, and Guillermo Sisto, my teammate, who lives just down the street. Sisto was the oldest player in the league when I was the second youngest. He had the locker next to mine and was my road-roomie when Karmen, my summer's inamorata, wasn't traveling with the team.

I don't know if I'll get to writing while I'm gone. Teresa's internet connection is spotty at best. And I ought probably spend my time with her, rather than here at my keyboard where I feel most comfortable.

The truth is, Hector and Teresa saved my life in the summer of '75, long before you were born. I was rounding third and heading home, looking to run into a serious self-destructive melee. A concussive collision at the plate between youth and stupidity.

Hector and Teresa took me in and gave me something I had never had before: Love. 

They gave me a place to live, hands to hold, four shoulders to cry on. They became my mother and the father. I had never had, except for semantically, a mother and father before. To be clear, I never even knew there were people in the world who were just...kind. My parents had the patience of lit firecrackers. As Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy said in "On the Waterfront," "they thought they could beat some sense into me."

In all, I played for the Seraperos just 121 games in a season that lasted for me from June to November, 1975. Just 121 games, but I've stayed in touch with Hector and Teresa for the last 44 years. 

Physical proximity doesn't make parents better. Psychic proximity does. And Hector and Teresa were always there when I needed them. Which is more than you can say about most people, friends, family, whatever.

I still need Teresa. I suspect I always will. As long as she's around. And even after she isn't any longer.

In the words of the Bard, it's a topsy-turvy world we live in now, where fair is foul and foul is fair. Most everything we used to believe in, rely on, hold to be true has vanished like your fist when you open up your hand. There are people running around who believe the earth is flat and miracle vaccines cause diseases.

Even that most enduring of all things, the oceans, are dying. And half our country thinks that's just a hoax. Though fish and krill and coral reefs would tell you otherwise. If we only listened.

Despite that turmoil, I've had an anchor in my life--a pair of anchors. Amid all the tossing and turning and the accelerating asininity of the world, I've had Hector and Teresa.

That's more than most people get. Even if my original equipment parents had all the staying power of an Italian ice on a hot August day.

We all need people we can talk to without saying a thing. We all needs hands we can hold and maybe even squeeze, even when we're thousands of miles apart.

That's life with a modicum of heaven.

Thursday, November 21, 2019


About twelve months ago, having lost a half-a-hipster's worth of weight because I started running again, I began doing the unthinkable.

I began tucking in my shirt.

I just now took a quick circuit around the creative floor. Not only is there no one within 15 years of my age, among the penisly-cursed, there's not a single tucked-in shirt to be found.

Being of a very old "skool," I also don't have four-day's growth of beard. And as far as I know, I am completely without "ink." Even though tats are where it's at, man.

You know what else I've never done? 

I've never called anyone "dude." I've never called anyone "bro." (Not even my brother.) 

I've never concepted. Ideated. Exploratoried. Decked. And I've certainly never used the noun party as a verb.

Once, about ten years ago while at a different agency, I was working on a large financial institution. Even though I was then, as I am now, resolutely uncool, I was summoned to have a meeting with the CEO of that financial institution. 

He didn't like anyone at the agency. But he liked me. 

I arrived early, as you do when you have a meeting with a CEO. His chief of staff sat me in his private conference room. Like Goldilocks, I decided to try his giant chair at the head of his mahogany table. There was more leather on that chair than on a herd of Texas Longhorns.

I took a selfie in that chair.

It was my first and last selfie. 

Unless I get hit by a truck or an electric scooter and I feel the need to snap a selfie to document the carnage, I'll never take another one. The world isn't dying to see me in person, much less in situ. 

There's not much of a point in this post. But if there is one, it's this. I'm angry.

Angry at how so many people, myself included, are treated because they're different--and that most horrible kind of different: they're old.

There's nothing wrong--despite the looks you get from certain people around the office--with having white hair and maybe a bit of a paunch.

As Arthur Miller's Willy Loman said, "It comes with the territory."

There's nothing wrong with not sucking on a USB aperture and vaping and not being in a band and not wearing a woolen hat indoors and not uploading a picture of every morsel you eat at every crappy restaurant while you're wasting your money on not saving for retirement. 

There's nothing wrong with not turning over the data of your life to the evil scions of the silicon surveillance economy--those who will sell you for your bytes like medieval grave-robbers.

There's nothing wrong with having a foundation in literature, art, cinema and, even, great advertising that goes back more than six weeks or eight.

If people don't value you because you were born when Eisenhower was president, or Nixon, or even Reagan or the first Bush, well then, I'll say this.

They're bigots.

They're bigots. 

And they're small-minded. 

And to be crude about it, they're exclusionary mofos who can take their "diversity and inclusion" bludgeon--the one they're always spouting about and they can beat themselves up their tattooed asses with it.

I'm angry about being treated as a ninth-class citizen because I have some rings around my trunk. 

In 2018, Kazuo Ishiguro, 64, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Lynn Nottage who is 54, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Heather Ann Thompson, 55, won the Pulitzer for History.

Poetry? Tyehimba Jess, age 53.

At the Oscars the four acting winners were:
Frances McDormand, 60.
Gary Oldman, 59.
Allison Janney, 58.
And Sam Rockwell, who turned 51 earlier this month.
Guillermo del Toro won Best Director. He’s 53.

In the world of TV, The Emmy for Best Drama Series went to The Handmaid's Tale. Margaret Atwood wrote the novel and is a creative consultant on the show. She’s 79.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus was executive producer of Veep. She won best actress. Veep won best Comedy Series. She’s 57.

Best Limited Series, Big Little Lies, was created by David E Kelley. He’s 62.

The Best Supporting Actor? John Lithgow, 73.

Best Supporting Actress was Ann Dowd, 62.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series? Alec Baldwin, 60.

None of these people could get hired to write a banner ad today. They're too damned old.

Yeah. I'm angry.

Someone wrote me a note not long ago. A friend and an age-peer working at what she describes as "a viciously ageist agency."

"George," she said, "I dream that one day there will be an agency where my partner and our teams will be judged not by the years on our resumes but by the content of our work."

I think that's pretty good. And pretty relevant.

But I have a confession.

No one sent me those words in real life. 

I took Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and did a little rewrite.

You know, this one.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

There I go again. 

Old references.