Friday, July 31, 2020

Quiet. Please.

With the death two weeks ago of Congressman John Lewis, we’ve heard a lot lately about his belief in “good trouble.” As near as I can find his exact quotation, it goes like this: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

I’m not for a second going to compare what John Lewis did in his lifetime to what we in advertising do. His life was loaded with import. Our aim is to sell room-freshener.

But I will draw this similarity. Neither an ad person nor a leader can succeed if they do not break through the dominant complacency. Neither an ad person nor a leader can succeed if they do not get noticed. Neither an ad person nor a leader can have an impact if they don’t make an impact.

In short, agencies—and viable in-house units too, I suppose, exist to cause good trouble. They exist to create messages that get noticed, that motivate people, that make people want to act.

If you think about some of the signposts of the civil rights era in the American south in the 1950s, you had people doing controversial things to make a point.

  • Emmett Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket so the world could see what hatred did to her slaughtered son.
  • Rosa Parks refused to move to another seat and risked imprisonment and physical threats.
  • And John Lewis and hundreds of cohorts decided to march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, the state capitol.

In the parlance of advertising today, we would call these big events. They are statements. They are platforms.

They were, each one of them, spitting in the eye of the establishment so they could get what today we call “earned media.”

They might have, instead merely posted a thousand signs and knocked on ten-thousand doors to raise support. But they had the resolve to believe that their causes were best served by big, disruptive, nasty ideas. Ideas designed to annoy the fuck out of people.

I don’t think it’s wrong to say that in the three examples I cited above—and countless others I didn’t mention (like the Vietnamese monks who burned themselves to death protesting against the corruption and bigotry of South Vietnam’s government) the brave people did in real life what we only flap our gums about in advertising.

Carl Ally, whose agency I worked for for five years, used to say, “Advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

“Afflict the comfortable” is likely as good a definition of “Good Trouble” as you’re going to get.

If Lewis, or Parks, or Mamie Till came to a modern agency with their cause, they would have been talked out of being noticed.

“Can’t you march at night, or around the high-school track? It will be cooler and safer and no one will get hurt. Or send out a series of tweets. "Yo, we wanna vote."”

“I’ll tellya what. We’ll get you a “What’s in Your Wallet?”-branded seat cushion and even though you’re sitting in the back, your seat will actually be more comfortable than the other seats.”

“Showing Emmett’s face will be in violation of community standards.”

“Pouring gasoline on yourself and burning yourself—it’s extreme. Can’t we do something carbon neutral.”

This is not to trivialize Lewis.

But Good Trouble should be the guiding light of the advertising business. TBWA\Chiat\Day, whose work succeeds more often than most, calls it “disruption.” That’s fine.

Without causing good trouble in service of a brand, without disrupting in service of a brand (or a cause) your advertising is really doing nothing more than pissing up a rope.

When I think about the thousands or millions of aggregated hours spent blanderizing tweets and banner ads and social posts that fly into the ether and have no impact, when I think about the countless nights barking about directors and casting and wardrobe and craft tables when the spot itself is as flat as a plate of piss, that’s when we need, as an industry, good trouble.

Not consensus.

Not reaching an accord.

Not being a collaborator.

Not consensus.

Not bridge-building.

Not pleasing the 27 people weighing in on a decision.

There’s one question to answer.

Will it have an impact?

Maybe there's a bigger question.  One that’s even harder to answer.

Does anyone remaining in the industry have any non-gender-specific balls?

John Lewis did.







Thursday, July 30, 2020

Ad Aged Exclusive: An Interview with the Incoming Holding Company CEO.

Thank you so much for your time today. I know you must be very pressed and busy taking over as holding company CEO during these unprecedented times, especially since you have never had any association with the advertising business outside of actually buying ad agencies. Tell me, do you think you utter lack of industry expertise will in any way curtail your effectiveness as the CEO of a company that owns advertising agencies?


Thank you. It seems more and more clients are adopting the “always on” model of advertising, sending out literally thousands of messages a day, how do you feel about that?


But what about platform ideas? The rap against them is that they’re expensive to produce and their effect is hard to measure.


Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about your holding company’s diversity efforts. Your company says they’re making efforts. Yet the C-suite, especially at the holding company strata is almost exclusively white and male. How will you change that?


A follow up…How will you bring more people of color into the fold, make sure they have the support they need to succeed and work to bring them into leadership roles? As important how will you be held accountable—and will there be consequences if you miss your stated objectives?


The industry has been devastated by the pandemic. In fact in the US alone, an estimate 50,000 people have lost their jobs. Any chance your Holding company will be hiring again, or is this the new normal?


I think we have time for one more question—let’s get personal now. Tell us an ad you’ve admired, been involved in, an ad that's changed a client’s business or that you think is important for the industry, if not to emulate, then at least to deconstruct.


Thank you for your time today. We look forward to your success and the success of your holding company.


Special Unlimited Time Offer: 

Mark, John, Arthur, Michael, Yannick and other Mark--if you'd like to talk, to answer these questions for real, or anything else, even an interview with "Le Holding Company CEO," call me: 646 823 7165. Let's talk. For realz.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The demise of advertising. Part 2,232,086,991.

Yesterday, in my social circles, yet another article made the rounds about the demise of the advertising industry. This one particularly had to do with the industry’s bloat—and how out of step that bloat is in the pandemic age. It talked about giant changes happening to the industry—of scions of the industry like Wieden letting go over one in ten employees and how in aggregate, the industry will lose something on the order of 50,000 jobs or more.

I’m not much for articles about the demise of this or that. They’re always a good way to gain readership. Who doesn’t want to read about something either loved or hated going away, but they never build in any accountability.

So the 27-part expose on the death of Jell-o that McCall’s magazine ran in the Gelatin Gala of 1962 had no follow up and nothing else. There’s never an article that runs a year after the original one that says, “that wasn’t so bad,” or “oops, we fucked up,” or anything else.

These articles are the equivalent of the mouth-breathing that local TV stations do when they give storms names like “Sleetpocalypse” or “Snowmageddon.” They get people crazy. They rush out and buy milk. There are live remotes of cheap reporters wearing cheaper TV-station-branded windbreakers and standing near the spray of the nearest beach and talking about people hunkering down and seeking higher ground. There’s never a follow-up that says, “what went wrong with our reporting?”

So, the advertising industry, once again, is staring down the barrel of obsolescence and death. Just as so many industries have done before and will do again since the beginning of time.

Before we go on, an important distinction must be made.

Is the industry itself dying?

Or is what is dying the avarice, inequality, bloatedness and, yes, robbery of the holding company set up?

You could ask the same sort of question about any number of things. Is the airline industry dying or are their inefficient, mean and cattle-car propensities causing the entire industry pain? Is government no longer necessary or must we remake a government that has been wholly given over to inefficiency, graft, deceit and cruelty.

In other words, in this case, is there still a need for the fundamental need of the function but we need to reform or transform or deform the perversions that have taken over the dominant complacency or has the original purpose and need for advertising simply vanished?

I am no longer in the ad industry, but if somehow, magically, a major holding company called me and offered me a job reshaping the industry (assuming they could pony up more than $1250/day which they can’t seem to for creative talent) I’d gladly take the job.

Because I believe, still, that advertising has an important job to do. A job too important to be left to the current flock of pontificators, stylists, technocrats, consultants and blowhards.

First, we live in an age of solipsism. Truth, facts and belief have become variables, not constants. We must as an industry, get this back. We who create ads and communications for our clients must strive to be the “anti-Facebook.” We will not run hype, we will not propagate lies, we will not half-truth our way to whole deceits. We must retrieve, regenerate, re-invigorate and re-inforce network standards. We must reverse the ethical race to the bottom and start climbing again toward honesty—not transparency—which is bullshit—but honesty.

How can we hope to regain the trust of people if we are not trustworthy?

Second, we have to go back to Bernbach. We have to hunt out and discover simple human truths. We have to move away from decoration and mere style and once again find the real or the leveragable points of difference in what we sell. We have to believe that “there’s a 12-year-old mentality in our country—every six year old has one.” In other words, we have to believe in the intelligence of our viewer—and appeal to that intelligence.

And we have to encourage our clients to get back to basics, too. Hire salespeople in your stores, train them, pay them, retain them. Answer your phone. Honor your commitments. Provide useful information that’s easy to find, easy to use and easy to implement. Basically, become a Comcast customer or a Verizon customer and study their businesses practices. Then vow to never ever act like they do. With arrogance, unctuous smarm and bullshit.

Three, we have to believe in what we do. That the power of an interesting and human message delivered in an interesting and human way can make a small company large. It’s creativity that alone that can do this. It’s not found in a deck or an always on series of banal tweets or by chasing the latest digital shining object.

I believe in advertising not as a panacea and not absolutely. But I believe as David Ogilvy and his children believed 52 years ago when they posted this. When you have something to say, say it. Get it in front of people so they see it. Find ways to persuade them to act. And be consistent.

All that was writ by a non-MBA and a non-consultant.

That could be why it made sense.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Career advice from my Mother.

To say that my mother and I didn’t get along is a bit like saying Adolph Eichmann didn’t enjoy going to Oneg Shabbats. Though the old lady gave me a lot—she beat a vocabulary and a love of information into me—but we were more often than not like the Monitor and Merrimack, submerging ourselves for protection, then firing away in an attempt to sink the other.

Despite 17 years of near constant cruelty and abuse, however, my mother taught me a couple things that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Even when I can’t remember why I came downstairs and whether or not I've fed breakfast to the dog, I'll remember some Audrey-isms, for worse and worse.

Once about 50 years ago on a hot summer’s day like today, the old lady dragged me down to the Lower East Side to buy some dress slacks for the upcoming school year. I’m sure it wasn’t easy keeping me in clothing that looked relatively nice and was not ridiculously priced. In those kodachrome years of the mid-60s and early 70s, in my tweens and early teens, I was growing like a bamboo tree. On a hot day, I might grow an inch an hour. At least it might seem that way if you’re the one paying for my clothing.

I haven’t been down to the old Lower East Side in a couple of decades. Sure I head down to Katz’s whenever I Kan, but not to the warren of what were once Jewish immigrant streets and where there are still linen stores, and luggage stores, and tfillin stores, and clothing stores and signs in both broken English and broken-er Hebrew.

My old lady dragged me down there on a day when the pigeons were melting to buy a pair of worsted woolen slacks for $14.95. They might have cost two times that or three at Bloomingdale’s or Saks. On the Lower East Side they were even much less than you’d pay at Alexander’s on Third Avenue in the Bronx.

We entered the store, my mother boldly, me trailing behind, hoping I’d be kidnapped by merchant seamen. The bells tinkled and an old man with exactly four inches of shirt between his bearded chin and his belted waist came out to greet us.

“The boy needs slacks,” she growled. “Good ones. Wool. No big patterns. That he can grow into. He's big-boned.”

The old man nodded and hustled to the back. In twelve seconds he returned with about sixteen pairs draped over his arm.

My mother eyed them like a wolf lamb chops.

"My Georgela. He shouldn't look vulgar," she said, pronouncing it wulgar.

She ticked through them like she was dealing card in Vegas. “Shiny. Ugly. Plain. Tacky. Ugly. Shiny. Cheap.” And worst of all, “Goyische.”

In a minute I headed to a curtained dressing-room roughly the size of my coffin to try on the remaining pants. In my absence, my mother probably ran her fingers along the shelving and tsk-tsked over finding dust.

I came out in the first pair of pants. Charcoal grey.

I came out in the second pair of pants. A light grey.

My old lady was all for formality.

“How much?” She shivved.

“Both pairs?” The old beard calculated with the pencil in his head. “Forty dollars.”



My mother was playing hardball. “Thirty.”


I was back in my own clothes now. She grabbed me by the ear and dragged me out of the shop, walking with the speed of a storm-trooper. She got to the exit and pivoted on her heel.

“It’s still my money,” she barked, “And they’re still your pants.”

She exited onto the crowded sidewalk. Before we had gone nine feet the old man, breathless, had caught up to us.

“OK,” he caught his breath, “thirty.”

Just the other day I got a call from a winsome collection of pixels who had found my name and my dossier on LinkedIn. Her boss wanted me to write some ads for her company but she “was a start up,” and “didn’t have a lot of money.”

I said, anyway, that I would listen.

“Well, my boss wants to know how you supervise people. If you’re hands on. If you can write manifestos. If you can write video scripts and how you go about doing it.”

“That’s a lot,” I answered. “That’s all on my LinkedIn and my site,” I answered. It was like a fart approaching me on a Japanese bullet train. It was getting here fast and taking no prisoners.

“She wants to see scripts. She doesn’t want to see videos. She’s not really creative.”

I sat with that for a moment. When potential business is involved I try not to make snap judgments.

“Would you send me an email with scripts and manifestos,” she barked.

I waited. Then said what my old lady said back when Nixon was president.

“It’s still my money and they’re still your pants.” I said and I hung up the horn.

Thanks, Mom.

I think that may be the best way I could ever remember you.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Talmudic, Biblical, Keynesian and Advertising.

Because, I am loathe to say this but I will for the sake of a blog post, I am reluctantly a leader in the industry I am no longer a part of, I get a lot of emails.

I have a big network—not Seth Godin-Simon Sinek-Gary Vaynerchuk big—but big nonetheless. Sincerely, I believe I could triple or quadruple my network if my writing weren’t so demanding. If I dumbed things down.

If I could resolve not to shave, wear woolen hats when it’s 97-degrees out, talk about my personal brand and hire a team of unpaid Georgfluencers, I could be the next Matt Gaetz in a heartbeat. Further, if I dispensed hospital waiting-room pablum like this from Gary Vee as in Vapid, strategically and expensively placed a curl on my forehead, I could be a Chief Imbecile Officer in no time.

But, I have taken a different path. I always have and I always will. I try to do what I think is right and smart and good—and mostly difficult, not what is popular, obvious and pandering. Never trust anything from anyone who spends a good portion of their time practicing expressions in front of the mirror.  

This weekend, I felt the effects of the strength of my network. I got many responses from something I posted on Friday, but on Saturday morning, I received two personal comments from two Chief Creative Officers at two major holding-company flagship agencies.

Though both of the CCOs have had great careers and I’m sure wealth like I can only imagine, they both expressed more than a little “despond” and a small bit of ‘George, what should I do?’

I think this is how many of the better people in the world face life. They don’t put on a false front where they pretend that these are the best of all possible times and the best of all possible worlds. Just last night, I finished Zachary D. Carter’s new highly-praised 600-page book on the life and influence of John Maynard Keynes, “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes.”

If you don’t think you can manage the whole thing, you’d be well-served downloading the book for $15 and reading the last chapter or two. That would take you about an hour and cost just about the same as two lattes. But instead of getting caffeinated, you’d wind up with a better sense of the giant forces that are working to create today’s tectonic geo-political trends: globalization, authoritarianism and serfdom 2.0—the result of bionic monopolies, reactionary politics and a lack of taxation that allows wealth to do what it’s always, naturally, done—consolidate.

If you read these pages, and I said this to my friends, you’d realize that you are just a tiny prawn in a giant Mu Shu and there’s not much you can do about these economic and social trends save get up at 4AM like I do and throw the occasional brick through the plate-glass of the nearest rapine-prone banking “institution,” and driving off before the local fuzz can rough you up.

There’s not much we can do against the on-rush of the forces of darkness. We can vote and protest, of course. But as Stalin wisely stated so many decades ago, “It’s not who votes, it’s who counts.” That is to say, it appears to me that America, what Lincoln called, “the last best hope of earth,” is much more last than either best or hope.

So where does that leave you and me and my two CCO friends?

It leaves us where we have always been. We can control just one thing in the world. Our behavior, our integrity, our work ethic and our standards. We can control what we consume and how we consume it. We can control what we learn and how we think. We can redouble our efforts at finding the truths of the world and the truths from the news. We can avoid fear-and-rumor mongering and demonization and bigotry of all sorts and we can speak up for what we believe in.

There is an ancient Talmudic precept that I’ve always tried to abide by. It says, “Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe.”

I don’t think I can save the legacy of the Enlightenment or stave off the forces of Supremacyness where the super-Mnuchin Trump Chao-McConnell DeVos, Prince, Koch-rich believe they are god’s anointed. I cannot get these galloping Supremacists to hear those other allegedly Christian words that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.”

All I can do, all any of us can do is do what we believe in. 

Or as John Stuart Mill said in "On Liberty,"

"A person whose desires and impulses are his own— are the expression of his own nature, as it has been developed and modified by his own culture— is said to have a character. One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has a character.

I write this blog every day—I get around 70,000 readers a week. I work my ass off. I charge my clients honestly and do my best for them. I try to be a good friend, a good husband and a good father. I fail, I’m sure six times in ten. Who doesn’t? But I try.

Some months ago, directly after I was fired by Ogilvy, though by all measures my brand is stronger than theirs, a high-flying industry friend sent me a note. “I can’t believe Ogilvy wouldn't just keep paying you to just keep writing your blog. It does more for their brand than anything else they’re doing. With you writing they show an openness and an honesty and a sense of humor that’s virtually unknown in the industry.’

“You know,” I answered, “if they paid me $500,000 a year with a three-year contract, I’d put their name on it, pull-back by two-thirds and call it a day.”

Except I wouldn’t.

That would be selling out, caving in and lying.

And despite all the pressure to follow that holy trinity, that’s not what I do.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Work is NSFW.

1.     in Recruiter: “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
2.     in ECD: “The client changed direction.”
3.     in CCO: “It’s not Cannes-worthy.”
4.     in C-Suite: “We’re realigning to better meet client exigencies.”
5.     in Holding Company: “Salaries are frozen.”
6.     in Client: “The CMO changed direction.”
7.     in CMO: “The CEO changed direction.”
8.     in CEO: “My husband hates it.”
9.     in HR: “You need to be more collaborative.’
10.  in Reception: “You need to show I.D.”
11.  in your Partner: “Apple did that years ago.”
12.  in the Team Above You: “We already had that idea.”
13.  in the Team Below You: “Broadcast is dead.”
14.  in Planner: “That’s not what we learned from Quant.”
15.  in Media: “It needs a logo watermark up the entire six seconds.”
16.  in Group Account Director: “The client won’t buy funny.”
17.  in Management Sup: “I thought the client wanted funny.”
18.  in AE: “That won’t work in pre-roll.’
19.  in AAE: “There’s no budget for dinner money.”
20.  in AAAE: “I can’t run out and get coffee until 5:30.”
21.  in Social: “That won’t appeal to Gen Z.”
22.  in Production: “Both Bryan and Lance hated it.”
23.  in Director: “Pytka would never shoot this.”
24.  in Print Production: “The pub says the type's gotta be 16 pt. if it’s knock-out.”
25.  in Editor: “We can always intercut your film with stock.”
26.  in Sound Design: “There’s some stuff that's salvageable."

27.  in Therapy: “We have to stop now.”

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Thanks, Rob Schwartz.

Through the years, through the magic of social media, and the confidence that seems to come with age, Rob Schwartz, currently Chief Executive Officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York and I have become friends.

You can tell how much I like and respect Rob. I took the time and effort to get the virgules in his agency's name pointing in the right direction.

At a time where it seems that very little care and attention to detail is paid to communications--to people like Rob, and people like me, those little things are important. My grown daughters often admonish me 'not to be judgy and hatey,' but our humanity rests, at least somewhat on reading the cues people and brands give us.

A person who is semantically, grammatically, or visually sloppy (like, say, the president of the United States) is asking for a stern judgment. The same goes for a brand--whether it shouts at you in a commercial, uses a god-awful stock photograph in an ad, or utters yet another lazy cliche like, "we are living in unprecedented times."

Most relationships are like equations. If you give of yourself, whether that giving consists of time, effort, love or money, you aren't entirely unjustified in expecting some sort of recompense. The political imbroglio about quid pro quos aside, that's how most relationships work.

Rob and I seem to exchange texts or emails, or LinkedIn or Twitter comments at least once a week. For me, they're nice little visits every day from someone intelligent, witty and whom I like and respect. 

They make me smile.

Last week in this space, without permission or attribution, I posted a bit of wisdom I saw on Twitter from Lee Clow's Beard--the brainchild of Jason Fox, a freelance writer and Creative Director based in Omaha, Nebraska, which I think is somewhere in America.

The faux and the hair.

Quickly, Rob, sent me an email with this article in it and this video that Rob helped produce. It's well-worth watching. Later, Rob sent me this note: 

I traipsed up to the agency last week and found an extra copy of the LCB book we made.
I’d be delighted to send it your way. 
Send me an address and I’ll ship it out this week.

I received the book just hours ago. You can order yours here. I haven't spent a lot of time with it as yet, but it took me just minutes to realize how wonderful it is.

But all this blathering on about Clow's eponymous facial hair is not the point of today's post. The point is more Faulkner, in fact, than Clow. No offense, Mr. Clow.

In "Requiem for a Nun," a sequel to Faulkner's "Sanctuary," Faulkner famously wrote "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Tucked inside the beautiful volume, was a high-linen-count envelope with a handwritten note inside on an engraved notecard.

There are those, I'm sure, who would be astonished. It's 2020. People don't have stationery anymore. They don't hand-write notes. The fact is, most people don't even have handwriting anymore.

It's passe. Old-fashioned.

Except it's not.

One of our jobs as communications practitioners is to show we care, to show that little things matter, to show that so much depends upon showing respect and kindness. In fact, an old Ogilvism stated, "clients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." The same holds true, I believe for the people we send communications to. I believe the same holds true when it comes to how you treat your employees.

In our business today we send out email "blasts." We "blitz" the market. We have take-overs and roadblocks and dominate the airwaves. We have war-rooms and wage campaigns to steal marketshare.

All that may be important.

I believe in campaigns, I do.

But more, I believe in care-paigns

Little things that are big. 

Thanks, Rob.

That was more than a book; it was a lesson.