Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Hello, Darkness, my old enemy.

As a Jew, even a Jew who grew up in New York (in which one in four people are Jewish) you are no stranger to anti-semites and anti-semitism.

I was born in 1957, and it wasn't until 1965, after all, that the Vatican conceded that today's Jews could not be held responsible for the death of Jesus. That's right, I grew up during a time when the largest religion in the world accused one of the smallest of killing their god. 

More recently, in late 2009, Pope Pius XII, "Hitler's Pope," a man who did little or nothing to protest Nazi genocide, was beatified as a saint by the church. This man was no angel. He killed, indirectly, tens of thousands of Jews and separated thousands of others from their families. His priests helped dozens of Nazi murderers escape through "Ratlines" to South America, after they were done killing Jews in Europe and Africa and Asia, too.

Beatified. A saint.

There were times, as a well-muscled and large youth, I took umbrage at some Jew-baiting slight, and took the bait. I found myself rolling in the dust with some racist who had called me something I didn't like. My knuckles ache still from abrasions from various goyishce schnozzes. I trust their schnozzes ache even moreso.

When I lived in San Francisco and there were Christmas decorations in public spaces--and in my agency--with no accommodation for those of other beliefs--in violation of the laws separating church and state, I looked the other way.

Recently, however, up here on Connecticut's Gingham Coast, the ugliness of anti-semitism has again raised its long and bony finger.

My wife decided we have to sink nearly half-a-million-dollars into our crappy house. To do so we had to get a variance from the cloistered little town our house sits in. And that involved a public hearing. And anti-semitic neighbors. 

Anti-semitic neighbors who said, publicly, that "The Tannenbaums are very nice people. But we've been living here for 67 years and they are newcomers. Plus, they're noisy. And they're nosy. Their addition will allow them to look into our home--they'll see into our living room and our dining room. 

Go on, call me an Internationalist and a rootless cosmopolitan.

"They work all the time and take phone calls outside that are very noisy. They're very noisy. Also, they put in an air-conditioning unit that's noisy. They're noisy and they're nosy."

I suppose you could say I'm being paranoid about this. But there is in language, coded words that communicate things without saying them directly. Noisy. Nosy. Words at home in 1950s America. Words I was warned against all my life. 

"Be quiet. Keep to yourself. Or...the Goyim will..."

"Elitist" is one of those words. "East coast." "Not real Americans." And so forth. 

You hear these things all the time. You hear them publicly from so-called leaders. They're, today, acceptable to say aloud.

Also, though Jews make up merely .002 of the world's population and .018 of the US population, we have been quota'd at universities, excluded from golf clubs and kept out of rarefied neighborhoods. 

But we are not classified as a minority. Though we are one of the world's smallest minorities.

This post will probably get me a lot of rebuke. 

I'm sure there will be Palestinian bricks hurled my way. And Israel as apartheid state, too. I'll also be told I'm being overly sensitive. That Jews are well-represented in board rooms and ad agencies and on TV and so forth.

Representation does not mean hatred is absent.

I'm tired of this shit.

And the hateful neighbors?

Since I'm a Jew I have some alleged malign intent. A plan of world-wide domination where my octopus of evil envelopes the world.

I am looking to try to train Seagulls, a Jewish bird if there ever was one, to drop dead fish, preferably Gefilte down their chimney.

The terrorists are among us.

Sometimes they're in Congress.

Sometimes they live next door.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Are the stars out tonight?

 We're living in an era of self-proclamation, self-promotion, and self-gratification. Everyone, the saying goes, gets a trophy. Every crappy kids' drawing has a place of honor on the $9000 Sub-Zero.

At major universities, for instance, everyone gets an "A."

Here's a look at grade inflation through the decades. From C to shining A.

The same sort of thing is happening over at the world's largest monopoly: Amazon. Witness this small sampling of headlines about "reviews for sale" on Amazon.

I believe it pays for every organization--no matter what it is they do or sell--to have a historian on staff. Someone who looks at things with some "distance." That distance allows them to be less reactive.

People, generally, look at topical events or happenings within an industry, business, locality or country and think those occurrences are unique. Historians look at things that happen and work to find where they fit within a long skein of time that could include centuries or within trends that span conventional boundaries.

That's called, in a word, perspective.

About two decades ago I remember reading that the average product sold on Amazon received a rating of 4.3 stars out of 5. That corresponds, according to my math, to an 86 percent out of 100. 

I don't think the average thing we buy can, technically, be above average. But according to Amazon's calculus, it can. Likewise, around the same time, Zagat's surveys were superseding in importance the written reviews from legitimate food journalists from "Gourmet Magazine," and "The New York Times." Despite all the many biases inherent in a system that uses public voting as an assessment tool, Zagat's was easy. And we went with it. We started eating--and overpaying for restaurants that got 27s. Maybe they were 17s. But the people have spoken.

Now, we're at a point I believe, whether you're looking for a restaurant, a hotel, a kayak or a vacation destination where ratings mean nothing at all.  

Everything has become "pay to play." You enter, you pay, you win.

In some cosmic version of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, the same has happened to our industry. Awards are meaningless as we spend more on them and imbue them with more import. It's the trophy-ization of emperor's-new-clothes-itis.

There are so many awards--so much blather and emphasis put on awards and so little scrutiny of the processes and rules around work that can be entered for awards, that the whole system, to more and more people, is essentially little more than self-promotion.

Some award shows, I believe the Webby's, have awards where nominees solicit votes from their friends. I think they call it "The People's Choice Awards."

It's a sham.

And a shame.

I'm constantly amazed that no one finds it amazing that many shows hand out multiple Grands Prix and multiple bests of show. I thought inherent in Grand was singular and best. 

It reminds me, somehow, of the old Henny Youngman joke, "I'm frank and earnest with women. In Cleveland, I'm Frank. In Pittsburgh, I'm Ernest."

It also reminds me that every year I see dozens of agencies showing their award-winning spreads for Lego blocks. I've never seen a lego ad in real life. I've never seen a lego poster in a toy store. Yet lego has probably won more awards than Nike and Apple computer and Perdue chickens, whose advertising you could argue, built entire markets.

I can't find out how many pencils the once-vaunted One Show awards. But look at how many categories they judge in.

If they got only ten entries per "discipline," at an average of $500/entry, the One Show would gross $130,000. That ain't a bad profit on handing out (following my math) 78 colored metal pencils--three per category. Of course, $130K is chicken feed. There are likely hundreds of entries per category. 

I just don't know what all this is about anymore. 

Or why any client would believe any agency that sells themselves and their efficacy based on the awards they won for work that may or may not have even run. I wish there were an actual trade press to investigate the money-making motivation behind the awards industry and their enablers. But that won't happen. It's a captive press--with low-paid practitioners who do little reporting, investigative or otherwise. Besides, they like the free drinks in Cannes.

That's all for today.

If you liked this post, please leave a review. 

You can join the 588 other people who have already, as of 5:15 this morning, given me a 5-star rating and have awarded me  coveted "Blogger of the Year" honors.

Monday, June 21, 2021

An open letter to new agency employees.

Dear New Employee,


No matter what your job title is at GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, you have--from this point forward--an additional job.

You are a detective. 

You know, like Columbo, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple or Sam Spade. 

You are a detective.

You are here to find out clues and facts and salient information that make the products and services we advertise more interesting to more people. So we can sell more effectively for our clients.

There's no such thing as "The Big Book of Surprising Details." Or "Insights from A to Z." 

You won't find these things, necessarily in a 700-word single-spaced brief. Or a 48-page powerpoint deck adorned with jocular gifs. They won't be on the first couple of pages of a Google search.

No. While most agencies and clients and theorists use the word "insight" like they're floating around like pollen spores in May--real insights that clarify, inform and persuade are extremely rare. We don't use the word at GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company.

The only way to find the clues and facts and information is to dig. It's to read annual reports. It's to read twenty-year-old annual reports. It's to read competitors' ads. And trade magazines and talk to people who use our clients' products--and people who don't. We must talk to engineers. Product people. We must go on factory tours.

That's how we'll get to compelling facts that differentiate and persuade.

We'll dig. We'll listen. We'll think.

We won't do "category" commercials that are funny and memorable, but which could be for any brand including our competitors. 

It's been a trend for quite some time for advertising agencies to recommend and produce beautiful commercials that say little if anything because somehow we've persuaded ourselves that commercials or ads with copy are a lesser form of creative. 

I've spent 40 years hearing that. And I fundamentally reject it. You can find something important to say. And you can find an artful way to say it. And you can sell a shitload of stuff for our clients. And make our clients happy. You can do all that. AND win awards. 

Fundamental to any effective communication is getting attention. And nothing gets attention better than giving people information they need--that they can't get anywhere else--in an unusual, funny or charming way.

You are a detective.

Find information about how much lead is in a mechanical pencil. And we can do ads like this.

You are a detective.

Find information about how we inspect our cars. And we can do ads like this.

You are a detective.

Find information so you can do ads like this.

Dilettantes can't do work like this.

This is work.

Not just a pangloss of style. Or trend-aping.

Timesheet worriers can't. Cool-chasers. Scope-jockeys. Parity-parodies. It-wasn't-on-the-brief-ers.

You can.

You are a detective.

Find information.



Thank you.

Friday, June 18, 2021

My annual Father's Day post.

As of this moment and forward into perpetuity, or next year anyway, this will be my annual Father's Day post. It might be shit. But it means something, somehow to me.


On Father’s Day, in this age of social media, it seems that everybody who’s ever had a father dutifully posts some sepia-tinged photo of their old man, smiling wistfully at the camera. If you’re around my age, those old daguerreotypes (they seem that ancient to me) are usually accompanied by a line or two of writing. Something like, “I miss you, Pop.” Or “I think of you every day.”

I grew up essentially without a father. My old man was away more than he was home, and when he was home, and sentient, that is, not drunk, or hiding from  his termagant of a wife, he was seldom present.

Naturally, I tried to be a better father to my daughters, believing that your job as an elder is essentially to do two things. 1. Give your charges roots. 2. Give your children wings. They should know where they came from, they should understand values, and they should have the confidence to soar.

Of course, being human, I probably fucked up four times for every one time I succeeded. That’s about as human a ratio as any of us get. And while I wish I had had more Ward Cleaver in me and less of myself, all I can say in terms of being a father is that I did the best I could with what I had.

I wish I had a time machine or some cosmic stain-remover and could undo much of what I did, said, didn't do and didn't say that demands undoing. As we age, we flip through life accomplishments and disappointments like a fat man on a toilet looking at the old Sears catalog. We're disgusted and repelled by much of what we see

As I grew up without a father, so did my father. My grandfather, Morris, whom I never met, died when my old man was just 8, and too, he was absent more than he was present.

It’s probably bred in the bone for a lot of men. In the binary world we grew up in, we were trained first to make a living. Everything else, including important aspects of fathering like having a catch or taking your kid to the ballet have, for many of us, come in a distant second.

Many men, myself included, were raised to believe that you take care of your family by giving them a nice place to live, nice clothing, toys, educational opportunities & c. Because of our own liabilities, peccadilloes, genetic-damages and other shortcomings, we might have miscalculated. Yes, we should have been there more. And maybe should have weighed our words with more precision.

My old man’s father, Morris, one of two grand-fathers I never met, came over from the old country, Russia, in 1913. He just beat the immigration shut-down that happened around the time of the first World War.

Morris was 25 or thereabouts when he arrived in Philadelphia. He had no skills, no education, spoke no English, had no money and no family in the New World.

He had escaped mandatory terms of the Tsar's Army: 25-years or death, whichever comes second. And he did it by volunteering, or being volunteered, at the age of ten or so, to work on the greatest infrastructure project of the 19th Century, the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. 
Life was cheap as the Trans-Siberian Rail-Way was being built.
Thousands died, many more wish they had.

With baggy pants down around their ankles,
the cry of "Hem boy!" would ring out.

Temperatures dropped to -200 (Celsius.) Colder in the shade.

It was a railroad three-times as long as the transnational route across our continent. Through terrain that made the American West look like Frontierland at a Disney theme park by comparison. It was nearly 6,000 miles long and was built through some of the most desolate and forbidding land in the world. What's more, in the summer, temperatures could drop to 200-below (Kelvin) and it got even colder in the winter.

Morris was too young to swing a pick, or to do much else but be sodomized. So he quickly became what was known on the Trans-Siberian as a “hem-boy.”

The workers who laid the tracks were given by the Trans-Siberian railway just one pair of work pants. By the time they had reached Krasnoyarsk, they had generally lost so much weight from eating their meager rations that their pants were down around their ankles. Of course, when you're pounding in spikes all day, having your pants fall down isn't just embarrassing, it's downright dangerous.

So the railroad hired scores of "hem boys" who would run along the railway waiting for a worker to sing out "Hem boy!" Then they hustled over to pin-up and hem the workers' pants.

There's no telling how many hems my grand-father shortened this way. Or how he managed to last the years he did. But somehow he lasted long-enough to save what he needed to land in America and start a new life on our teeming shores.

It’s easy to hate your parents, your father especially. Because like all people, one’s parents are especially flawed. It’s part of being a parent, I think, that you’re usually missing when you’re needed most and you don’t usually find out until years later when you were needed and what for.

There’s not much any of us old people can do about any of that. Maybe there’s some parenting parallel to Newton’s third law of motion. For every action there was an equal and horrible error or inaction. 

It doesn't matter if you're making a billion dollars running a hedge fund, or flipping burgers up at 7 Brothers Deli on 44th and 10th. All of us fathers want the same basic things for our kids. A chance for them to be themselves and find their path.

That’s probably as good an encapsulation of fatherhood as you’ll find anywhere.

And it pretty much sums up this old man's trials and errors as a dad. Like my grandfather, whom I never met, we're all just hem boys, working on a long railroad.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Transforming business transformation.

Today, you can't hardly spit without hearing something about business transformation, or transforming business models, or upsetting the dominant complacency, or the status quo or disrupting the disruptive disrupters. 

We hear about businesses being "Uber'd." or "Peloton'd" or "Apple'd" or "Virgin'd." We hear about it so much, sometimes I think my head is going to fall off. Because, frankly, for all we hear about how much this or that will change everything, to my jaded baby-blues, just about everything universally sucks.

Now that American business and much of our political/liar class is blaming the lack of service whether you're trying to buy a bagel and a cuppa in the morning, a new phone, or just about anything, on the laziness of the American worker. I'd go so far as to say despite all the inflated claims of business transformation, everything sucks worse than ever before.

Everything takes longer (a kayak I bought for my wife's birthday over a month ago isn't expected to arrive for another eight weeks.) Everyone is rude ("you took the wrong cup if you want iced-coffee.) Everyone takes advantage of you. (New York is having elections in a week and every candidate from Mayor to Comptroller feels they have the right to text you.) And everything is spelled wrong (I'll be getting my heir cut later.)

I don't know what, for all the blather about disruption and/or business transformation has actually happened that's good for people, not giant companies.

As I do so often when I get in one of these near-constant moods, I turn to George Orwell and I make a leap.

Orwell wrote this: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

For the purposes of this post, I'm going to equate "business transformation/disruption" with Orwell's locution "revolutionary act."

What are business transformation and disruption if they're not revolutionary?

So, here's my thought about business transformation and disruption. If you want to do them/make them/enact them, here's where to start. Not with data collection, not with greater surveillance capitalism, not with better retargeting, or two-factor authentication. 

Start here.

Start with the absolute basics of being a human. ("Corporations are people, my friends," as neo-Fascist Mitt Romney asserted.)

Start with making a promise to the people you serve and actually serving them. 

Start by telling the truth.

Start by eliminating footnotes, codicils and "terms and conditions."

Start by treating people well.

That probably means training staff, so when somebody says, "where's the filo dough?" you walk them over to the freezer case instead of pointing. That probably means paying people so you can retain them, so they actually stick around long enough to know some answers.

Start by showing up on time. If you run an agency and have a call scheduled with the client at 10, everyone must be in the room and the line must be open by 9:57.

Start by rewarding people for jobs well done. And customers, too, for their business. With real value not bonus miles that are worth nothing and then expire.

Start by not talking about personal empowerment until you stop employing slave labor.

Start by not talking about climate change until you clean up the mess you generate.

Start by not talking about how great you are until you treat your employees great.

Start by fixing your shortcomings not telling the world how your solving the world's.

Start by remembering you're in business to serve--not to reward yourself and fuck others. 

Start by, in sum, telling the truth. 



All the time.

Worry about you showing your loyalty to your customers,
not about customer loyalty to you.

And tell the truth.

You want business transformation?

Real transformation, not just bad service under the see-through guise of "efficiency"?

Treat people like people.


Of course being human might cut into short-term profit. Some years ago before the knowledge of the horrors of surveillance capitalism were widely noticed, I suggested my client stop collecting data and retargeting people with ads.

I was told, "We get a 7-8% lift through retargeting."

So for an 8% lift on 8 clicks per 10,000 views, we annoyed people. That is to go from 800 clicks per 100,000 views to 864 clicks per 100,000 views, we chased people all over the internet.

My guess is that the damage that nastiness did was greater than 64 clicks per 100,000 views purportedly gained.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Dismal science meet dismal industry.

Someone wrote a comment on one of my posts the other day. Taking me to task, somewhat, for the beating I mete out to Ogilvy in particular and holding companies in general.

I suppose that's fair enough.

But let me explain. Or, rather, let me try to explain as best I can without going all Keynsian on you.

My generation--the baby boomers--grew up in what was essentially the golden age of Liberalism. Income inequality was lower in this country than it had ever been. Social mobility--at least for white men--was greater. And the government formulated policies that substantially improved the lot of the middle class. They made college more affordable and available. They created the GI-Bill which greatly increased home-ownership rates. And for the first time, the masses had decent wages, retirement plans and health insurance.

My bad, I grew up with a crazy notion that that would continue. Who saw John Birch in the guise of Ronald Reagan coming.  In the words of Abraham Lincoln, I grew up thinking that a government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth.

Over the last 40 years or so, in ways micro and macro (economically speaking) government has shifted away from helping every human to helping the wealthy and the megawealthy. This isn't politics. This is policy.

As reported in the New York Times' "Deal Book" blog on June 9th, 

  • Jeff Bezos claimed a $4,000 tax credit for his children in 2011.

  • Warren Buffett, who has called for tougher tax rules for the wealthy, paid under $24 million in taxes between 2014 and 2018.

  • Carl Icahn and Elon Musk took advantage of rules regarding debt. Icahn deducted interest payments on his companies’ debt, helping him pay no federal income tax in 2016 and 2017. Musk regularly borrows tens of billions against his stock holdings: those loans aren’t taxed, and the interest paid can often be deducted. (He paid no federal income tax in 2018.)

  • George Soros paid no federal income tax between 2016 and 2018, after claiming investment losses.

  • Mike Bloomberg paid $70.7 million in income tax in 2018, despite reporting $1.9 billion in net income, after claiming deductions, charitable donations and foreign tax offsets.

For your illumination, Bloomberg's $70 million in taxes on his $1.9 billion of net income, is a 3.7% tax rate. That's you making $2000/week and paying just $75/week in taxes. Think about that. Think how well you could live on a normal salary,

So back to my grudge against Ogilvy and the holding companies. 

I single them out because I know them.

What I really hate--and have hated since I was a little beaten child--is bullies. Bullies are liars. And I hate liars.

I hate liars. Part 1. Companies who say they care about diversity and inclusion where fewer than 1 in 50 of their employees is over 60.

I hate liars. Part 2. Companies who say wages and bonuses are frozen while C-level executives routinely get lifetime payouts, giant salary increases and bonuses that could choke a yacht.

I hate liars. Part 3. Companies who claim razor-thin margins, but somehow make enough money to pay their CEOs more than 200-times the wages of a median employee.

I hate liars. Part 4. Companies where it's policy to pay putative executives (that's you and me) a fixed salary while having them work literally thousands of unpaid hours--as the price of holding onto their executive jobs.

As Ezra Klein writes in the June 13th edition of The New York Times, "The American economy runs on poverty, or at least the constant threat of it. Americans like their goods cheap and their services plentiful and the two of them, together, require a sprawling labor force willing to work tough jobs at crummy wages. On the right, the barest glimmer of worker power is treated as a policy emergency, and the whip of poverty, not the lure of higher wages, is the appropriate response."

That's what I'm against.

That's what I'm barking about.

A liar-made economy that exploits workers. That suppresses wages. That tosses people out in a way that makes the treatment of Willy Loman look benevolent.

Or as Thomas Piketty wrote not long-ago in "The Guardian" about the effects of the still-raging pandemic: 

"The right response to this crisis would be to revive the social state in the global north, and to accelerate its development in the global south. 

"This new social state would demand a fair tax system and create an international financial register that would enable it to bring in the largest and richest firms to that system. The present regime of free circulation of capital, set up in the 1980s and 90s under the influence of the richest countries...encourages evasion by millionaires and multinationals."

I agree with Piketty. He's a Ph.D., a best-selling author and perhaps the world's leading economist.

I'm just a copywriter who got A's in Dr. Beck's micro-and macro-classes forty-five years ago. I don't know much but I know what's happening.

We're all living in the world Piketty talks about. 

My edge is I'm unemployed. 

And freedom's just another word for no job left to lose.

So I can write about life without being castrated.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Flight of the Bumblebaum.

Like most people in the advertising business, I almost always had a freelance job on the side.

Basically, if you're working full-time, even regularly late into the night, who can resist picking up some extra ducats here and there by tacking on a few more hours a week. I always equated the freelance while working as finding money in an old coat or in the cushions of a sofa. There's something magic about extra money.

At one point while at Ogilvy, I got called out on it. I said to the caller-outer, I haven't gotten a raise since I joined this place four years earlier. And I'm making the same money I was making when I left here the first time in 2004. With inflation rising at about 3% a year, over a decade, my salary in real dollars has actually decreased about 50%.

He backed off.

Freelance, however, when you're on your own is different. Sometimes I feel like the beleaguered husband in those old 1930s comedies who go shopping with their wives and end up carrying parcels stacked twelve or 16 feet high, teetering beneath the weight.

Back when I was a youngster, I went to some lawn party for incoming freshmen. There were a bunch of 50-year-old dads there, too, with marzipan complexions and shorts with embroidered fish on them. They were pleased and puffed up and bragging about their kids.

I remember hearing one father say, "Well, if you want something done, give it to the busy man."

It's 46 years later now--I heard that in 1975, sometime before the fricative and the great vowel shift, and I'm just beginning to understand it.

It's something, frankly, all the creative managers at agencies don't understand.

If you're in a crunch, if you're in a crisis, if you've got a CEO speech that needs writing in eleven minutes, don't give it to the person who's 37% "utilized." Give it to the person who's 337% utilized.

Sure, it's not fair.

But, I'll tell you something I've learned along the way. 

Account people know.

They almost always crave on their business the people who are busiest. Just like you'd like the busiest plumber when you have a leak. They're people who know how to get things done--so they can move onto the next thing.

A lot of friends call me and ask me how GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company is going. So many people, that I've developed something of a patter.

"I'm not really an entrepreneur," I answer. "I miss the steadiness of a paycheck every two weeks. Right now, for instance, I'm owed something on the order of $xxx,xxx. But, let me tell you what I do like. I like that the relationship between hard work and pay has been restored.

"Clients come to me. I don't say no. I get it done. The more I work, the more I get paid."

That used to be a given in capitalism. 

More work = more pay.

But it's been obliterated by a holding company system that's bent on systematizing the idiosyncratic for the comfort of people who don't understand humanity.

I always felt when I was within the four constricting walls of an agency that I could do all the work in an agency by myself. I couldn't keep up with all the revises, no. No one can. And all the 168-page decks. But if a big agency writes 100 spots a year, I could certainly do that. At 55 words a spot, that's only 110 words a week.

That's basically what I'm doing now. Working, working, working. Writing, writing, writing. Thinking, thinking, thinking. I don't dilly-dally or even eat lunch.

Work never ceases.

Occasionally, I'll sit outside between my wife's rose bushes and the sea. I'll see a fat-to-bursting bumblebee working from flower to flower. Working, then moving on.

Working, then moving on.

I feel ya, dude.

I feel ya.

Monday, June 14, 2021

2,734,233 Titantium Pencils.

I got a note from a friend on Friday afternoon. It was a day, up here on the Gingham Coast, with sublime San Francisco weather. 65-degrees with sparkling sunshine and what sailors would call a "freshening" wind. The kind of breeze that fills sails, clears the air, and billows out the diaphanous dresses of pretty girls to show off their gams to great effect.

My friend was one of the brightest lights in our industry's dying constellations and wrote me about the spate of Pencil-Contagion that's going around LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and The Witchita Daily Telegraph. It seems like everyone and his cousin is writing about the 72 pencils they've won for this or that.

The funny thing is, I consume a lot of media. And read all the annuals and advertising trade-press. I read newspapers and magazines. I watch the occasional TV show. I am an avid watcher of the industry.

In the past 12-months, the Lincoln Project notwithstanding, I haven't seen 12 good ads in total. Have you?

In fact, I have what today is called an "Eidetic memory." We used to call that a photographic memory--but that's not obtuse enough for today's standards. Stretching that memory to its fullest, I can't recall a single ad that I've really loved. Nothing as 1/2 as good as any of the ads below.

When I was a kid in the business, I would clip out every good ad I'd see and put it in a giant coffin-sized corrugated box. At the end of the year, I'd have quite a collection. Even if I were to screen-grab ads I'd like and clip print ads, at the end of an average year nowadays, I'd have four. Max.

I'm not interested in ads about hamburgers that promote the brotherhood of man. Or ads for peanut butter that salvages the rainforest. Or messages from supermarket chain that teaches coding to amputee dogs. You know what I want from brands? Ads that tell me why your products are better. 

And as for brand behavior, clean your own yard before trying to heal the world. Answer your phones. Provide a good product at a good price. Clean up the litter and trash you generate. Pay your employees. Pay your taxes. Do those things--those quiet things--and then we can talk about self-promotion. Until you do the job you're actually paid to do, don't talk to me.

I feel that way about advertising, too.  

But back to my friend. She wrote, "Proud and humbled to say that of the 276 million gold pencils handed out this week, I won zero."

"You know, Jill," I wrote back. "I never cared much about awards since 1989 and I won half-a-dozen Clios at the Clio-free-for-all-year. But now that I'm on my own, the award thing is really different.

"Now, what gets my juices flowing is different. I've always been more intrinsically geared than extrinsically oriented. I've always been more interested in what I think good is, as opposed to what judges I'll never meet think."

"I get that."

"Lately, though, something's happened. Maybe it's a function of being very close to very senior-level clients and being essentially a one-man eponymous agency. Now when I show work, clients say, 'George, thank you. This is way more than we expected.' A lot of times, I'm presenting on Zoom to a dozen people, and I literally get applause.

"I mean, clients are thanking me for building their business.

"Somehow it means more than a $12 metal pencil that 276 other people also won, for ads that never ran."

But apparently, I am in a minority.

What's most winning is faking.

Then bragging about it,

Friday, June 11, 2021

Fish on Friday.

Ah, Friends, it is Friday, is it not? 

Time to sit back, hearken back and celebrate those days when dead agencies were still alive, where low-pay wasn't a condition of employment and agencies still believed in that fatuous old slogan, "First-class business in a first-class way."

Today, that ol' chestnut has been replaced by this modern one: "Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime. Make a man head of a holding company and he'll drive the place out of business in three years."

How's that for fish rotting from the head?

With great gratitude to the unsurpassed Dave Dye ( for designing these for me. He's a master of patience, dedication, generosity and craft. (You probably already knew that. Who else knows how to do stuff like this anymore--make ads that people actually want to read?)

Below, the full insipid collection, complete, for a limited time with typos, thanks to my inimitable idiocy! Collect 'em all.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Trade secrets.

About eight years ago when I joined Ogilvy for the second time, my therapist of nearly 40 years, Owen, scowled at me. If you've never been scowled at by a Mittel-European psycho therapist (two words) you haven't really lived. The scowl is a terrifying mixture of termagant with liberal doses of harridan and virago mixed in. It's enough to scare the pants off you, whether or not you're wearing any.

"George," Owen said, "it's time you worked for yourself."

"Naw," I replied with my usual Cro-Magnon eloquence. 

"If you had to have your own company," Owen continued at his ten-dollars-a-minute tirade, "what would you name it?"

As I do best, I answered without thinking.

"I'd name it GeorgeCo., because clients would be getting me. I realize for all the things agencies hate about having individuals on staff--their contentiousness, their moods, their mania, their disdain for petty bureaucracy--it's those things that have made every agency that's ever been successful in building clients' business while doing good work, possible."

"That's right," Owen said handing me yet another exorbitant bill.

I'm rounding into the start of my second year of GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, and while I don't love the "loneliness of the long-copy writer," I do love doing things my own way. 

Not my own way to be difficult. My own way because I know how my brain works and I've set up GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company to optimize my brain. 

Accordingly, I don't have long sets of rules, lengthy protocols and hordes of people watching over the one or two people who actually do the work. No. That's not how I work best. 

Not too long ago I had a brilliant CCO who rubbed a lot of people the wrong way because he didn't stand in the front of big rooms late at night and harangue people, ostensibly with ersatz 'win this one for the Gipper' speeches. He quietly set a very high standard. That's it.

Your job was to meet that standard--to surpass that standard. If you could do that, you were in clover. If you couldn't you were Gulag'd. Most people couldn't.

The point in all this is pretty simple.

For communication to succeed, it has to first get your attention. If it doesn't, it has no chance of ever working. 

To get your attention something has to be unique, startling, unusual. It has to be different and unexpected.

Different and unexpected.

Most agencies try to create processes to create different and unexpected. The modern ones hire dozens and dozens of people and legislate thousands of pages of strictures and protocols to make you conform to their way of doing things. 

They try to regularize the irregular. They try to Frederick Winslow Taylorize serendipity.

That's the opposite of what I'm trying to do.

I know being different comes from being yourself--if you yourself are different--and letting yourself work.

That's what I'm trying to do here.

GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, is not rules for fools.

No. It's me, listening to the smart people I work with and for. Then thinking. Usually while I walk Whiskey and sleep. Then writing. Usually 10,000 words to get ten or twenty I like.

That's it.

That's GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company. 

Not scalable. And built to stay that way.™