Thursday, November 19, 2020


Back when my daughters were living at home--this is almost 15 years ago now--I would occasionally visit one of their schools for a recital, a play, a ceremony or a parent-teacher conference. The great thing about these moments is that they're a very clear way to mark the passage of time.

Visiting a high-school is to, in effect, visit a place that is frozen. The desks seem smaller. The classrooms bring back memories of your own classrooms, from way back in the 1960s. 

Even the teachers have a mien and a deportment that remind you of Miss Keiserling and 1967. The over-sized windows that could only be opened by a medieval-looking metal-tipped pike. The black-out shades that were probably a hold-over from World War II. The smell of steam pipes and sweat in the boys' bathroom. The artwork on the walls in various classrooms that seems as ancient as the Lascaux caves.

Mostly, you get the sense that that world has stayed the same. And you've moved on. 
Miss Havisham in full-decrepit regalia.

But because your past has Miss Havisham'd--it seems smaller somehow, and even decrepit.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said more than a century ago, "there are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.

Of late, such Sovietization seems to be happening to at least one of the Holding Companies--WPP. From just five years ago to today, it has virtually demolished the names--and the heritage--of some of Madison Avenue's most-storied brands.

A theoretical Stolperstein. 

Young & Rubicam has been initialized into Siberia. J. Walter Thomson has been grafted onto a direct agency and has lost its J and its Walter. And now Grey--famously effective since 1917--has been placed in the basement of a virtual edifice called the AKQA Group. I think something called Geometry Global has been smoosherized into that subterranean space as well.



That's like seeing:  
The Packers become the Bengals.
The Yankees become the Mets.
The Canadiens become Zamboni drivers.

I'm sure the golden-parachute scions of WPP have great expectations from their holdings making a forced march into merger-hood. I'm sure their Bullshit Bingo cards will fill up in no time with phrases like "cost efficiency," "digital and data expertise blended with the craft of story-telling," and even the old stand-by, "economies of scale."

In less than a month I'll be 63-years-old. I grew up in a black-and-white America of 150 million people. We're now a country that's more than doubled in size. Everything's different.

I said to an old friend not too long ago that every place we used to hang out when we were young is now a Home Depot parking lot. 

Maybe that's progress.

But it makes me sad.

Maybe the disappearance--or the subsuming--of these famous advertising brands will lead to the resurgence and the strengthening of new brands. 

Or maybe, and more likely to my jaded eyes, the whole thing will collapse like a rust-belt downtown and the only one's left standing will be the Holding Company oligarchs who disappeared those brands in the first place. By that time they'll have made up various awards for themselves and have had themselves elected into some spurious Hall-of-Fame that celebrates their Titanic egos and their minnow-sized engines.

In fact, I have a feeling the only ones doing well in advertising in 2020 are the very people who have destroyed the industry.

I also have the feeling that if I ever find myself back in one of those buildings that used to house one of those agencies--one of those agencies that are now no more--when nobody's watching, I'll sit down at one of the desks or in one of the conference rooms and I'll hit my knees.

Everything has gotten very small.

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