Friday, April 30, 2021


--  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --

I had an idea the other day that I can't shake.

Because I work largely on my own, or because I largely work on my own, or because I'm large and work on my own, I try to be hard on my own ideas.

Before I tell them to anyone, I spend a lot of time and a lot of synapses trying to shoot them down. After a lifetime in the business--and a modicum of success--I still fear coming across as a fool. Really, who doesn't?

In any event, going through LinkedIn the other morning, and Twitter, and Facebook, and seeing the pyroclastic explosion of banality from all three of those social networks, I tripped upon an idea for a new type of agency.

This new type would be diametrically different from every other agency that ever was. And that giant difference would be captured immediately and communicated in an instant by its name:


It's not that the people in the agency would actually have mouth-ectomies, it's that we wouldn't, under any circumstances, allow any talking whatsoever.

If you were a creative, your Mouthless job would be to write down or design the crap most agencies spend four weeks till four in the morning talking about.

If you were account, you'd have listened to the client and created a brief or a way to sell the work and written it down on a piece of paper. Preferably a piece of paper the size of an index card.

Same with media.

Same with planning.

The lip-flapping would stop.

Mouths would be persona non grata.

In fact, since Mouthless is my creation, I'd have one simple rule. You couldn't go home at night until you handed me a sheet of paper or two with all the things you thought of that day.

Not vagaries. "Like I was thinking this could be cutty." But real bona fide ideas based on real information and insights. So, someone might write something that said, "No one knows what the client does, so I explained it here in seven words." Or, "I made a diagram so a small business could see how easy it is to accept payments by QR codes."

On Sunday, Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, sent me an email. Based on the fact that Bob and I have eaten pastrami sandwiches with half-sours and a Dr. Brown's cream down at Katz's, and I don't do that with just anyone, I count him among my closer friends.

His note was short and grumpy. Just the way I like notes.

"Can you believe this shit," he wrote. And then there was a link to an article from Campaign Magazine. There was a time when I might have changed names to protect the innocent, but that Dragnet shit is over for me. Frankly, I was too nice for too long and it did me no good.

Inside O*il*y’s employee wellness program

by Sabrina SanchezApril 19, 2021

The ‘100% You’ program goes beyond mental health to address four pillars of wellness: money, movement, minds and meals.

The past 13 months have been tough on everyone’s mental health. 

As 9.7 million people in the U.S. remain unemployed, and those working from home struggle with burnout from their screens, the overall well being of Americans dropped sharply last year. 

As a result, employee wellness programs took on new meaning. 

To rise to the occasion, O*il*y launched a new program, called 100% You, that aims to address a fuller picture of wellness for employees, said J*m*s K*nn*y, chief people officer in North America and global chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at O*il*y.

“We've invested in buildings and in technology,” he said, “but it was time to invest in our [employees] —100% of [them].” 

The program, which launched shortly after 
K*nn*y joined the company in January, includes weekly Zoom seminars around four pillars:  money, movement, minds and meals — to address financial, physical, mental and dietary wellness. U.S. employees are given a time code to attend sessions, which are held during the work day.

The seminar aims to address all of the things employees most need to bring their whole selves to work, 
K*nn*y said. 

“We often talk about wellness as moving your body, or some sort of app, but few people realize the importance of financial wellness,” he said. “If we invest in our people and we teach them how to create [wellness] for themselves, it’s [reflected] in the work.”

Each month, sessions are led by one of four coaches: professional softball player and TV host with DraftKings, A.J. Andrews; CEO and founder of finance coaching platform 
The Financial GymShannon McLay; Morrocan chef Yasmina Ksikes; and certified health coach and yoga teacher Yvette Rose. 

Diversity was also top of mind when developing the program, 
K*nn*y said, adding that he was intentional about choosing four women — and three women of color — to coach.

“When we're talking about 100% You and total wellness, [representation] is part of that,” he said.

While the program is U.S.-based for now, O*il*y plans to expand the program to Europe and APAC and create branding around the program when offices reopen. 

“Whether you're in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or Denver, we will have dedicated spaces for coaches to come in and create this experience on a weekly basis,” 
K*nn*y said. 

He added: “I don't think there's anything more important than this investment in bringing people together. To me that's where creativity begins: through community.”

Reading that bullshit, I don't think there's much else an agency called Mouthless has to say to justify its reason-for-being. I found the notion of "wellness" from a place that sweats people to death and doesn't pay or promote them the moral equivalent of a cold Soviet shower with Levrenti Beria and a plumber's helper.

However, if you're still not convinced regarding the need for an agency like the one I'm proposing, let me leave you with this. Tell me if you don't think the world would be a lot better off with a lot more duct tape. And many fewer Holding Company Chieftains.

WPP Launches Global Data Company: 


Delivers a privacy-first approach to customer data amid changing
market dynamics

W*P (NYSE: W*P) today announces Cho*eog*aph, a new global data company,
to help clients realize the value of their first-party data, consult on and implement
their data and technology strategies, and advise on privacy-first approaches to
navigate the fast-changing data landscape. Cho*eog*aph brings together the
specialist data units of G*oup* and W*nd*rm*n T*om*son into a single
company with global reach, accessible to all WPP clients and companies.

Cho*eog*aph’s core belief is that marketers own their first-party data with 

consumer permission; respect for privacy and the intentional use of data is at the
heart of its approach. Guided by this philosophy, 
Cho*eog*aph will continue to
create market-leading tools to support clients in the appropriate and responsible
application of data in advertising. 
Cho*eog*aph’s role is to orchestrate and
integrate data sets, including managing first-party data as a service, to
expand audiences for growth, and to use data to optimise and improve
media, creative and consumer experiences.

The company will offer four key product categories—audience insights and planning; 
private identity solutions; AI-based media optimization; and predictive analytics—
and services including strategy consultancy, custom technology development and 
data management operations.

M*rk R*ad, CEO of W*P, said: "We are at an inflection point in the industry, where 
brands have an imperative to leverage their own first-party data to make
advertising more relevant, effective and personal while fully respecting
consumer privacy. We must also use data to gain insights, shape our creative
work and measure results – 
and this requires a holistic approach that
this integrated offering brings by enabling data to flow across client,
agency, and media owners. Uniting the powerful and established data units
G*oup* and W*nd*rm*n T*om*son into a single global data company
is another important step in our simplification strategy."

Cho*eog*aph builds on W*P’s extensive data and consultancy capabilities within 

its creative, media, PR and specialist agencies. Leveraging the common data and
technology platform, W*P Op*n, 
Cho*eog*aph has a commitment to agnostic data
partnerships, including cleanroom partners by market, creating unrivalled flexibility
for clients....

...Walgr*ens Bo*ts Al*iance is a premier Cho*eog*aph launch client, as part of
the selection of W*P as its global marketing and communications agency in 2020.
"Cho*eog*aph delivers a unified identity-based approach, providing unique insights
to fuel brand growth and power personalized experiences for our customers
while fully respecting their privacy and preferences," said M*tt H*rker,
VP Global Marketing Strategy & Transformation, Walgr*ens Bo*ts Al*iance.

C*ristian Ju*l, G*oupM G*obal C*O, said: "Data management today should 
reflect the data and technology savvy of the consumer. Cho*eog*aph is built
on common-sense principles that allow marketers to manage and use 
their data.
Our framework of manage and earn, expand and enrich, and activate and optimize
is flexible, modular and designed for the future of data-based businesses,
enabling marketers to create better experiences, stronger brands and
trusted customer relationships."

The new company has the scale advantages of W*P, the world’s leading creative
transformation company, and G*oup*, the largest media investment company
with an annual investment of over 60B USD. Cho*eog*aph launches in all major
markets globally, with support hubs in Karlsruhe (Germany), Lille (France),
London (U.K.), New Delhi (India), New York and San Francisco (U.S.), Shanghai
(China) and Sydney (Australia).

About W*P

W*P is a creative transformation company. We use the power of creativity to
build better futures for our people, planet, clients and communities.
For more information, visit...

By the way, if you're a company that's losing accounts left

and right, losing money quarter after quarter, rather than saying
you use the "power of creativity to build better futures...." perhaps 

you should be Mouthless. Or make money.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Zoomtinis at dusk.

I had a Zoomtini with a client the other night.

Let me rephrase that. The other night, I had a Zoomtini with a friend who became a client. 

We've been friends for about ten years--a considerable, but not extraordinary length of time. However, during those ten years, we survived more than a few agency battles together. The sort of late-night, high-stress affairs that fortify trust and strengthen friendships.

Last night we raised an elbow to some work we're doing together--to both the integrity of the work and the cohesion of the group that's come together to make it and build it and place it.

It's a good feeling when this happens. It's like crossing the finish line at a marathon. You might stink. You might feel like shit. But you stuck with it and you did it.

When it's good, work can be like that.

Our chatter, of course, wasn't guided by any agenda. We had business to talk about. But it was really more a moment to take a breath and exchange thanks for giving each other our best.

We also talked, of course, about the agency world. We're both on the other side now--away from the sturm und drang of the mainstream of the business. And being out, it might feel a little bit like escaping from a cult.

"You know what gets me," my friend said at one point, "I'm sitting in a client seat now--not an account guy seat. And when I hear agencies thanking clients for being brave--it makes me sick."

I laughed. Brave is a fire-fighter. A soldier. A father consoling a kid who's been somehow rejected.

"Look," he said, "I have an imperative drive my company's business forward. That ain't being brave. That's called doing my job. I don't need pandering to do my job. It's my job. Don't condescend me."

"When I was a kid," I told him, "I was a cashier in a liquor store in downtown Chicago--right off of Rush Street. A wealthy older couple came in and bought a couple of cases, expensive stuff--they must have been having a party that night.

"I didn't even think about it, I carried the cases out to their car and loaded everything in their trunk."

"Yep, that's right," he said.

"The old man reached into his wallet to give me a buck. When you're making $3.50 an hour, a dollar tip ain't bad. But I turned it down."

"You refused the tip?"

"Yeah." I said, "Like you don't like to be called brave, I didn't like the idea of being rewarded for doing the right thing. It's not about a dollar or a dais. It's about doing the right thing. It's about knowing you did the right thing because it's the right thing to do. That's always been my imperative."

Maybe that's antiquated, that sort of thinking. Maybe all that integrity crap is just bushwa that gets people to work harder, so the rich get richer.

But work, whether it's curing cancer or creating ads, is about work. It's about how you conduct yourself. It's about trying, cursing, sweating, battling, re-doing, re-re-doing till you get something you and the people who pay you are pleased with.

It ain't about being brave or winning awards. It's not even about Mammon.

It's about doing what you say you're going to do. 

Then doing a bit more.

And a bit more.

Nothing brave about it.

It just is.

And here's to you, client/friend. 

Until we Zoomtini again. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Shingles don't care.

This might sound disparaging but it's not. It's really just the way things are. No matter who you are, where you are or what you do for a living.

I've come to this conclusion at the ripe old age of 107. I wish I had realized it earlier. It probably would have spared me a few dozen pounds of gnawed cuticles.

Every job, every relationship, every assignment, everything you ever do is a bait-and-switch. 

There's no malevolence around this. Nothing nefarious. It's just that nobody really knows what they want or need until they spend some hours in the task poking around under the hood with a warped chopstick.

Once, about two decades ago, I took a very prestigious job at a very prestigious agency. I left my old job, appropriately enough on April Fool's Day and wasn't to start the new one until May 9th.

I remember saying to myself, I'll probably never get this much time off ever again in my life until I retire. I was looking forward to spring in New York. The dogwoods blossoming in Central Park and long runs around the city, just as the days were getting longer and the skirts shorter.

Instead, during my first long loping run, my cellphone buzzed. It was my soon-to-be new employer who needed me out NOW for a pitch. I went out the next day, flew to Houston the day after that and so on and so forth. What I was pitching wasn't what I was hired to work on. And I wasn't getting the time off I needed. And I found the general level of mayhem at the agency greater than I expected.

As a modern freelancer, this sort of thing happens every day. You get hired for your day rate to write things that, it is to be hoped, will help a company define itself, find its place in the world and turn itself around.

It's not unusual for that Eiffel Tower of an assignment to turn into a cement barrier in a near-abandoned parking lot. Complete with crushed beer cans and piss-stains.

Again, it's not malice or duplicitousness that leads to this sort of decay. It's just the way things are. Circumstances change, people get cold feet, money--somehow--dries up.

As Mr. Dylan rasped so many decades ago:

That's kind of the way it is with life and work as well. The times are always a-changing. 

It's like buying a timeshare after being told there's an ocean-view and you wind up having purchased a square of crooked sheetrock over-looking a swamp. You can bemoan this condition or do something about it.

Right now, four-and-twenty workmen are reshingling the sides of the small garage that sits near our heap of house. Some of the cedar shakes had succumbed to moss and mildew and we were advised to address the issue before rot set in.

As I was lamenting the bait-and-switchedness of this or that I heard the legion of workers sawing and nail-gunning and banging things this way or that.

One side has already been re-shingled and they're working on sides two and three today.

I thought about all the ups and downs of life. And all the money all this work was costing me. And all the money that was coming in from this client or that to pay for it all.

It doesn't matter that I was told Super Bowl and wound up with 97 banner ads. It doesn't matter that we went from spreads in the Wall Street Journal to a series of 209 email newsletters. It doesn't matter.

What matters is doing your best no matter what. Getting paid the money you've earned. Then paying the people you have to pay.

And here's today's lesson, girls and boys.

The shingles don't care.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021


A lot of the work I do as an independent creative is fairly basic work. It's work I enjoy and I'm good at. 

Essentially, I'm given a sheet of paper and told to fill it with headlines or ideas or brand promises. I suppose there was a time in my career where that would have scared the pants off of me. But now that I've reached the age of 107, nothing really bothers me anymore.

I have no problem getting up early and getting a lot of stuff done. I've also--maybe this is only temporary, it could disappear tomorrow--broken that writer's curse of getting stuck on something and being unable to think another way about a solution. 

I have two tricks of the trade that I share with young writers. The first one has always been "write it backwards." If you find a simple, straightforward line rewrite it so it's nutty and cockeyed. Or rewrite it so it's brutal like a punch in the jaw. Or rewrite it so it's upside-down. The point is, just rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

Sure, there's a time when it's time to take the paper away. But it never hurts to put your schnozz to the grindstone for another dozen lines. It's easier to cross out too many than to not have enough.

However, the toughest, most important work I find myself doing is anything but basic.

It's something they don't teach you in ad school. 

In fact, in today's modern holding-company system, they don't want you doing it much at all. Certainly not if you're a creative person.

The work I'm speaking of is listening.


Hearing what a client has to say.

Hearing what they don't say.

Hearing what they're afraid to say.

Hearing a hard truth.

Hearing a secret.

Hearing things no one else can hear, like a dog can hear a high-pitched whistle.

There are very few times in your life--your personal life or your professional life--when people will actually tell you what they want. Most people, even if it's a birthday gift, have a hard time saying they want a $1000 Celestron programmable telescope. They usually get coy or sheepish about it. 

If you think about it, even telling someone where to scratch your back most often results in a guessing game.




"To the right."

In other words, it's really hard to come out as say exactly what it is you want. Even if you know what you want, it's often hard to pinpoint it. It's hard to put it into words.

So far, no agency that I know of has a Chief Listening Officer or Executive Creative Listener.

But I've been out on my own since January, 2020.

And that's the job I've been doing.

Pays well.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Lions and tigers and technocrats.

The great writer, Daniel Mendelsohn, has a very short piece in last week's New Yorker magazine that is well worth the time it will take you to read it. Because the New Yorker lives behind a pay-wall, and because the piece is so short, I'm pasting it below. So that I don't get sued by the august magazine, next time you see an issue at a newsstand, buy a copy and tell 'em George sent you. It's the very least you can do to support journalism.

The piece is set 203 years ago and involves an English architect named George Ledwell Taylor. He's out to explore the ruins of an ancient town called Chaeronea, in central Greece.

His horse stumbles on a stone in the roadway. On closer inspection, Taylor discovers the "stone" is a part of a monumental sculpture of a lion's head. The head alone is nearly six-feet high.

The monument was a commemoration of a battle of 300 Thebans. They were known as the Sacred Band and they were regarded as most-feared warriors in all of Greece, until they were utterly destroyed by Philip of Macedon (and his son Alexander the Great) in 338 BC.

Here's the bit of the story that really got me--and Mendelsohn:

"The Band was composed entirely of lovers: precisely a hundred and fifty couples, whose valor, so the Greeks thought, was due to the fact that no man would ever exhibit cowardice or act dishonorably in front of his beloved. In Plato’s 
Symposium, a dialogue about love, a character remarks that an army made up of such lovers would 'conquer all mankind.'" 

Last week an old friend who has his own eponymous agency called me to help him on a new business pitch. I was really too busy to do too much, but we talked for a few hours on the phone and worked for a few hours on our own, sharing ideas along the way.

On Friday, I got an email from my friend and a Zoom invite from his business partner. I assumed that that meant they had won the business--and were celebrating.

I felt a little abashed by all this. I had really done nothing at all. If we were a baseball team, I would have been a batboy to a line-up of Mantle, Maris, Berra and Howard. Nonetheless, though I had contributed nothing to the win, when my other three-o'clock call was pushed back, I dialed into this one.

It's a funny and magical thing to witness camaraderie and cohesion. Even though every business has competition and rivalry and hors d' ouvres of hand-picked sour grapes--I'm sure the "Sacred Band" did too, it's wonderful when all that is put to one side and the entirety of that band--in this case a small agency--rolls up their sleeves, sweats the details, laughs, cries, yells and comforts and carries the day. 

That's an army of lovers--lovers of what we do--that can conquer all humankind.

I'm not sure how much of the management of the giant holding companies who control roughly 75% of the world's agency ad dollars understands this. When they win a big account, I'm not sure that they celebrate the blood, sweat, toil and tears as much as they celebrate the euros, drachmas and dollars.

But seeing people who love what they do, as Plato remarked in his Symposium, might be enough to do what the giant technocrat-run holding companies can't. Because, chances are they don't understand it at all.

Or as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

It ain't the 397 offices in 4537 countries, the 44027 shortlists or any hogwash like that that make an agency worth. The best agencies--whether they're large and holding-companied, or small and independent, or one person and a pencil, are the ones who bring love--to brands, to ideas, to getting things done.

It has been ever thus.

In June, 1818, during a visit to central Greece, a young English architect named George Ledwell Taylor went out riding with some friends in order to explore the ruins of an ancient town called Chaeronea. As Taylor’s party neared its destination, his horse took a “fearful stumble,” as he later recalled, on a stone in the roadway; on further inspection, he saw that the stone was, in fact, part of a sculpture. Energetic digging eventually revealed an animal head nearly six feet high—or, as Taylor put it, a “colossal head of the Lion.”

That definite article and the capital “L” are crucial. Taylor realized that he had uncovered a famous monument, mentioned in some historical sources but since lost, known as the Lion of Chaeronea. The Englishman had been studying a work called “The Description of Greece,” by Pausanias, a geographer of the second century A.D., which states that the gigantic figure of the sitting animal had been erected to commemorate a remarkable military unit that had perished there. The lion, Pausa­nias surmised, represented “the spirit of the men.”


The unit to which those men belonged was known as the Sacred Band. Comprising three hundred warriors from the city of Thebes, it was among the most fearsome fighting forces in Greece, undefeated until it was wiped out at the Battle of Chaeronea, in 338 B.C.—an engagement during which Philip of Macedon and his son, the ­future Alexander the Great, crushed a coalition of Greek city-states led by Athens and Thebes. Scholars see Chaeronea as the death knell of the Classi­cal Era of Greek history.

Others might find the story interesting for different reasons. Not the least of these is that the Band was composed entirely of lovers: precisely a hundred and fifty couples, whose valor, so the Greeks thought, was due to the fact that no man would ever exhibit cowardice or act dishonorably in front of his beloved. In Plato’s Symposium, a dialogue about love, a character remarks that an army made up of such lovers would “conquer all mankind.”

Sixty years after George Taylor’s horse stumbled, further excavations revealed a large rectangular burial site near the Lion. Drawings that were made at the site show seven rows of skeletons, two hundred and fifty-four in all. For “The Sacred Band” (Scribner), a forthcoming book by the classicist James Romm, the illustrator Markley Boyer collated those nineteenth-century drawings to produce a reconstruction of the entire mass grave. Black marks indicate wounds. A number of warriors were buried with arms linked; if you look closely, you can see that some were holding hands. 

Published in the print edition of the April 19, 2021, issue, with the headline “Band of Brothers.”

Daniel Mendelsohn, the editor-at-large of the New York Review of Books, teaches at Bard. His most recent book is “Three Rings.”


Friday, April 23, 2021

A letter from GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company.

GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware company is proud to revive this great heritage of Artisanal Copysmithing-ing--a unique combination of wordsmithing and wordsmything, that renders all other forms of copywrighting prosaic, if not arcane and obsolete. 

Each single letter, each single serif, each iota of punctuation will be chosen and wrought by hand--as only GeorgeCo. can do, in keeping with the proud craft-profession of copyscaping, of which I am heir.

As a special introductory offer, GeorgeCo., is proud to make an initial public offering of the letter "A," customized to your exact specifications.

1. Do you prefer the top of your A erose or smooth?
2. Customize your A's cross-bar--straight or irregular?
3. The A's "left foot." Asymmetrical or symmetrical?
4. The A's "right foot." Distressed or "placid"?

We can customize your A to any specification or desyre.

In the coming weeks and months, GeorgeCo., LLC,  a Delaware Company will offer the bespokerization additional letters and punctuation marks, including K, ! and B.

Each of these letter-forms will be hand-crafted to your exact demands. Please allow six to twelve weeks for delivery. Slightly longer if you are outside of the Continental United States.

There's so much to consider when committing to the art and artistry of bespoke copy. That is why, at GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, we have determined it is more propitious to vend not whole words but particular lettershapes down to the individual serif.

Should you have the desire for a more customized form of customized copy creation, curation and crustacean, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Hoping this blog post finds you unwell, I remain remains.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

I'm having a break-down.


I get a lot of notes like the one above. 

They're not all from people as talented and kind and prolific as Dave Dye (if you're not reading his Stuff From the Loft--particularly his series on 'The Women Who Built DDB'--you are depriving yourself of a valuable advertising education. 

I've never been a fan of advertising schools. Partly because I think there's more to be learned--faster and cheaper and better--from people like Dave and Dave Trott and Bob Hoffman and Rich Siegel, but....)

But forgive the meander. 

I get a lot of notes or calls or whatevers from people saying "how do you do it?" And frankly, I don't know.

But often when I am stuck, which is often, whether with work or with this space, I break things down into smaller parts.

Over the years, I've seen many people almost literally paralyzed with performance anxiety. They have some copy due tomorrow--or TV-spots or headlines or a website and they can't budge.

When I am faced with such fears, I turn to the calculator in my head.

A TV spot is really just :27 seconds--you can knock off the last three seconds for the logo and tag. And these days most 30-second spots don't have more than 12-15 seconds of copy in them. At about two-words-a-second, you're worrying about writing between 25 and 30 words.

It's pretty much the same thing with this blog. I've written about 6100 posts since I started this 14 years ago. About 410 posts a year. At about 300 words a post, that's just under two-million words.

That might sound like a lot. But again, if you break it down, it's only 41 words an hour for an eight-hour day. That's two words every three minutes. That's not too hard.

My two cents is that too much anxiety is built up around making something for the ages. When we should just be focused on making something. Eventually, if you're lucky, the ages will come.

My tact with clients is simple. I almost always come back to them with ads or ideas or whatever about 14 times quicker than anyone else can. I say to them, "I don't like theory. I don't like talking about what work should be. I like talking about what work is." 

Actually, that's not 100% true. I usually say something more vulgar, like "we'll all be more productive if we're pissing in the same pool." I hand them the spot and we've got something to work from. It's usually pretty productive. We have the core of the idea settled. Now we work on making it better.

With this blog, it's the same thing. I start with an idea.

One idea.

It doesn't have to be the god equation or a rumination on nature vs. nurture. It just has to be something that caused a synapse. Then I write about that synapse. As quickly as I can. And I put it away.

Usually, I check back with it--like I check back with all my work--ten or twelve times during the day. I suppose bakers do this with dough. Is it rising ok? And fisherpeople do it with chum lines. You don't have to do anything drastic. Just see if there are any adjustments you can make.

I don't work on any grand thesis or theme. I just write about something that hit me.

This morning I saw this ad. It's one of the better ads I've seen in a very long time. 

First of all, it's honest. Which is unusual.

Second, it's full of facts about the shoes--I learned, for instance, that these come in 1/4-sizes for better fit. That makes me think the people who make the shoes are obsessed with the little things that make a difference. All of a sudden I've thought more about a brand of shoes I've never heard of than anything shoe I actually own.

I don't need willowy models draped over each other looking like they're about to fuck their eyeballs out to sell me a shoe. I don't need lines like "We shoe." Or meaningless words like "pamper," and "indulge," or "supple."

Just break things down for me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Modern Advertising. A Jewish perspective.

It occurred to me just now, if there isn't one already, there should be an American-Jewish, or Jewish-America short story titled, "Would You Like Some Fruit?"

The story takes place through the decades and features just two characters, coming together every few years or so, after some days, weeks or months of separation.

"Mom," says the 15-year-old child, looking pimply, haggard and wayward. "I got suspended from high school for smoking dope during band practice."

"It's ok, my boychick. Would you like some fruit?"

Six years go by and we are in the same linoleum kitchen, bursting with cheap dented aluminum pans and ragged books full of S&H Green Stamps.

"Mom," says the man-child dumping his duffle bag on the crooked floor. "I got kicked out of college for cheating on a bio test. Not in school, I'm open to the draft. They'll send me to Vietnam."

"It's ok, my boychick. Would you like some fruit?"

Again, some years elapse, the long-haired boy, strung out and wearing torn fatigues with his rank's insignia ripped off, revealing in darker drab his ex-rank, arrives in the even-more run-down kitchen, "Mom, I've fragged my Looie, and I got hooked on smack in 'Nam."

"It's ok, my boychick. Would you like some fruit?"

And so it goes.

I wonder though, if this post has a point, if "Would you like some fruit?" has become the refrain of the modern ad agency and the world's modern marketing departments.

Some time ago I wrote something about a telco called Sprint. I haven't thought about Sprint since the last time I saw a track-meet on television. I suppose they've been merged out of existence, though their name and logo is probably still emblazoned on half-a-dozen or twenty midwestern football stadia. 

In 2008, Ad Age reported, "Last week, Sprint reported a fourth-quarter loss of 683,000 postpaid customers, those billed monthly for service and who are considered the industry's most valued." 

I wrote: Sprint lost almost 7,500 customers a day--despite having contracts with their customers that are 'Shylock-ian' in their rigidity. No advertising can fill a 'bucket' that leaks that quickly. Mr. Kelly [their CEO] has been canned because he was throwing money at advertising to continue to re-fill Sprint's leaking customer bucket. I've learned over the years that it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain one. Kelly's $1.2 billion of marketing spend should have been focused on treating consumers well.

The unsurpassed Dave Trott, wrote me a note not long ago:

"When AMV had to repitch for Sainsburys, they sat down and discussed the branding issues. How could they change the brand to attract more people into the store?

"It was depressing because the brief from the client was to increase Sainsbury’s turnover by £3 billion over the next 2 years. And however much you change the brand you’re not going to attract £3 billion of business away from your competitors.

"Then a young planner said, 
'Forget the brand for a minute, and look at the numbers. Sainsbury's has 14 million store visits a week. That’s 3/4 billion store visits a year.

'If we can increase the value of each store visit by an average £1.50 we’ll have increased revenue by £3 billion over 2 years, without attracting a single extra customer.'

"So Sainsbury's did a campaign featuring Jamie Oliver who demonstrated a recipe featuring something you probably hadn't tried: nutmeg, or aubergine, or courgette, or cinnamon.

"Each commercial said: 'Try something new today.'

"If they could get housewives to try something new, some would spend £1.00 but, once they were in the store, some would spend £20.00, which would make the average spend well over £1.50

"It worked and they hit their target in 1 year, not 2."

Not long-ago I worked for a brand that had about 24 quarters or more of falling revenue and profits. I'm not a business-person and while I took more than my share of economics courses in college--and read John Maynard Keynes and Kenneth Galbraith for pleasure--quarter after quarter of falling revenue is not generally good for business. Yet 98% of the agency's response to that downward spiral was the equivalent of "Would you like some fruit?"

"We should shoot this with the Mosouffian Brothers. They have a really cool editorial style."

"Yes, our CEO was caught fucking sheep in a Mosque."

"We should shoot this with the Mosouffian Brothers. They have a really cool editorial style."

I'm not 100% sure what ad agencies do anymore. It seems we are selling cotton candy to the nutritionally-deprived, rather than providing real substantive sustenance.

I like commercials and banners and tweets as much as the next carbon-based algorithmic life-form but my sense, or GeorgeCo's sense is that there's more to marketing than making more creative.

That's enough for today.

There's a banana in the kitchen calling me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Thinking about thinking.

My old man grew up poor and fatherless in West Philadelphia. Born just before the depression--the country's, not his, he was too young to be drafted into World War II, and too cowardly to enlist but he did do service during the war--of a sort.

With most men over 18 overseas, my father went down to Philadelphia's giant central Post Office in University City and got a job sorting mail. That was a good job in 1943 and for a 16-year-old.

Like me, my father had a prodigious memory, and according to him, like a London cab-driver, he knew every street and every postal zone in what was then America's third-largest city. 

Some years on, my father who had an advertising man's gift of quip, wrote a be-bop song as a follow-up to Charlie Parker's "Salt Peanuts," called "Two Peanuts." Parker took a pass on the song when my old man somehow got it to Bird's agent. But it was picked up by a local quintet called "Woody and the Termites," and before long "Two Peanuts" was a hit on local stations. All at once, my old man had more money than he ever before had in his life--$2500--roughly a year's postman's salary for an hour's work or two.

My father had a firm idea about what to do with the money. He put it all into a storefront adjacent to his mother's house at 1056 S. 53rd Street, in West Philly. He had a thesis--rare for a 23- year-old--that every neighborhood needed "the last place to go before you go home." 

So, Stan opened up 'The Knight Spot,' a 24-hour sandwich joint that was to be his ticket out of what was then a Jewish ghetto. 

One of the things Stan passed onto me was a fractured relationship with time. My father, for over six months, ran The Knight Spot, an all-night restaurant, all by himself. He saw no reason to ever close--even though he was the only employee, save his mother, Ida who would stop by (she spoke no English) and burn a burger for a disgruntled customer and his best friend, his cousin Herb, who would spell Stan so he could take an occasional nap in a bed, not leaning on a mop.

As GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company enters its second year in business, I notice my father's temporal eccentricities have grafted onto me. While I am very busy with the pushes, pulls, yins and yanks and more and with a growing list of growing clients, I try to go to sleep each night having nothing hanging over my head.

I don't sleep leaning on a mop, as Stan did, but my wheels seldom, if ever, stop turning.

That doesn't mean I do immediately all the work I get. It does mean that I have organized my files, cleaned up my notes and usually written a note or two to myself about what I want to write--whether they're ads, scripts, manifestos, taglines or speeches for the CEO. 

I write up my conversations with clients--the big themes and the incidental anecdotes. Within them, usually lies the spark to advertising tinder.

Doing so means I've set the table or sous-ed the chef or let breathe the wine, before preparing the meal.

A lot of time that means I have what my wife calls George-Focus. It's a mania of sorts, I'll concede. 

She could be clanging on her cast-iron pans with a hammer or the back of my skull, and I will scarce budge from my keyboard. Back in my Ogilvy days, when a big meeting or a pitch loomed, it wasn't unusual for me to plant myself in my cliche'd Aeron, and write until I had written fifty headlines I liked. Not just fifty headlines--fifty I liked--that I knew were good. Sometimes it seemed I had done an entire agency's work before the agency showed up for the day, you know, just before lunch.

Old Iron Ass, some called me. Usually followed by the imprecation/admiration "You're writing things faster than we can read them."

My goal in all this perseverating is something I learned the one time I sat across a pale oak table from Milton Glaser. We were working on a poster together. We started at 7:30AM and I galloped up the stairs two at a time in his brownstone with a headline already formulated.

"That's pretty good," he said when it emerged fully-formed from my noggin like Athena from Zeus' head. And then he began to doodle. 

We talked a bit. And then he pushed away from the table. I took that as my signal to head to my paying job.

"Let's let it marinate a bit," he taught me. "Call me tomorrow."

No use delaying. I want to have my thoughts all thoughterized by the time I get up in the morning. I like to let things marinate while I sleep. I generally walk for two-or-three hours a day, and I like to have something for my brain to chew on while I do. 

I don't listen to music or talk on the phone while I wander. I work out my assignments. I usually, when I get home, run to my Mac and type for 30 minutes. I've trained myself to remember things I think--and generally those things serve me pretty well.

My business partner and general manager said to me the other day, "It's amazing how fast you are."

I haven't tried explaining that I'm not really very fast. 

I just think a lot.

I think.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Early morning Whiskey.

On Sunday mornings, more often than not, my old-man's bladder conspires with my aging puppy, and I am awake at 4:57 for some quiet time with Whiskey.

We refurnished our new house about six-months ago with new, expensive furniture covered in new, expensive fabrics. About two-months ago, the furniture arrived. Three weeks later, a throw from the Orvis catalog showed up, and Whiskey is laying on it now, comfortably at my side, her deep eyes fighting against re-sleep as I type this.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near.

Whiskey must think it queer 
That I type with her tusch so near.

That I wake up before the sun, feed her, and then type one-handed, using my right mitt for petting purposes.

Like the rest of the world, Whiskey has had a helluva year. She was diagnosed with cancer about 12 months ago. But, America is still America when it's science-based--still one of the great countries on earth--and we found a battery of doctors who have treated her with as much acuity and intelligence as love and tenderness.

She's still a puppy--like me, she refuses to give in to being an old dog--but, like me, only for about 45 minutes a day. Those are the minutes she is guided primarily by her enthusiasms and lust for life. When she runs on the beach and through the water after an apple section I've hurled into the distance, torn rotator-cuff be damned.

Whiskey gallops after it, charging like Red Grange, aka the Galloping Ghost, and splashes or swims through the shallows of low-tide for her kill. Or she chases after the duck decoy I have with me always, and hurl with the wind a Clemente, if not clement-like distance.

She returns to the sand, and digs and rolls over, making what my perspicacious spouse calls "sand angels." But it is Whiskey, as well as my wife, who is the angel. Beings filled with joys--not oys--and laughter and smiles.

We walk, when the sea is out, in the sand flats, crossing small rivulets of the receding surf and finding uninhabited islands for Whiskey to claim--with an apple or a duck--with me as her man Friday. She sniffs at a lonely clam or some seaweed or on occasion will beat me to the carcass of a once-was fish and have herself a sushi forschpice, bones and scales and all.

The aging dog in both of us sometimes makes us tired. Yesterday, after we returned from the sea, she lay on our hardwood and barely moved for the rest of the day--and was creaky like Gary Cooper or a mechanical toy when she did.

There are, I'll admit, as the LaGuardia of client jets seeks to land on my tarmac, days when I sit alongside Whiskey--my wife has not yet demanded I too sit on a throw from Orvis--and think about my waning days. My eyes, blue to Whiskey's deep brown, seem to grow weighty and I wonder, "how long?" And "why?" And even, "no more."

The black is lifting now outside my windows. The songbirds are more insistent, and this post is nearly written. 

It's quiet on Sunday mornings. Now, it's just the one-handed clatter of my keyboard, the ticking of an old clock on the mantle, Whiskey's deep breathing and the chirruping of a trillion birds.

No one, except for those birds has much get up and go, right now. They, as the adage goes, are out for their worms. 

But I have things to do. As does Whisk. And in a moment or two, we will grab some sliced apples--Whiskey's favorite treat except for all the others--and we'll take a mile swing through my 1950s neighborhood.

I'll see a house now and again, lit by the glare and blare of a flatscreen. The bright colors of animation filling the set if kids are awake, or the chyron chaos of the 24-hour news cycle surely telling us of another mass-murder or slaying of a Black man by a cop, if a stupid grown-up is up and watching.

Whiskey and I turn our heads from the horror, and look to the sea.

We're happiest still just being still.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Norma Desmond and me.

When I got kicked out of Ogilvy for being too old way back in January, 2020 (they can say it was for other reasons but I was earning the agency more money than I was costing it. And you could argue that my brand was helping theirs more than theirs was helping mine) I decided on the spot I would never work full-time for another agency again.

I have freelanced for half-a-dozen shops but I do so out of a sense of friendship. Agencies can simply no longer pay the money I demand and deserve. How could they? Think about all the hundreds of C's they support. The dozens of C's at the Holding Company. The stupid rents they pay. And their profligate habits. No, unless you're a C, it's a sucker's game.

So that dark, Covid-looming, just-fired January, I set out to start GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware company--I had a simple plan for success. Whatever I had observed agencies doing, I would do the opposite. 

I learned from being raised by Kasper Hauser's parents, that no one is entirely useless. They can always serve as a bad example. That was approximately how I felt when I was severed from my life-long career. I would learn from the bad examples.

So, I decided I wouldn't be cheap. Just the opposite. I was going to charge clients at the top of the market and pay people at the top of the market, too. 

I decided I would move at my speed, which is very fast, not at  agency speed, which is often languid due to its ossified bureaucracy. And over-think. Or under-smart.

I decided that I didn't want to get so big that I couldn't write everything myself. I considered that my obligation, given the name of my agency. I wouldn't employ inexperienced people. Only people I considered the best for the job.

I decided I would be nice--but would be staunch. I would present my point of view to clients and if they didn't like my work or my ideas, I was happy to walk. No sense shacking up with someone you can't stand. It never turns out well.

So far George., LLC, a Delaware Company has exceeded my expectations. I work with a growing list of clients--not a growing bureaucracy of clients. And all the people I've employed are among the best and smartest people I've ever worked with. 


We haven't missed one deadline.


We haven't had one shitting meeting.


I haven't created anything that isn't good..

Last week, though I've resisted infrastructurizing GeorgeCo., I hired a Director of New Business, Herb Provence. Already we are on the shortlist of three or four fairly sizable pieces of business--and that feels good.

I'm not a natural entrepreneur. And the convivial side of the ad business does not appeal to me. I am not given to smiling and feel, at times, that business demands that I do so. 

I don't want to do things I don't want to do, or that I don't believe in. I've earned that right and I have enough money in the bank to allow me to be a bit of a dick. So who knows how long I'll stick to this game.

It's taxing.

I rarely have a night or weekend off. And like much of the rest of the non-Ted-Cruz world, I haven't had a vacation since 2019. 

But I enjoy work.

I enjoy the clients and people I work with.

And I enjoy winning.

I'll especially enjoy, I think, the day, not so far from today, when GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company is bigger than Ogilvy.

Of course, it's not me who got big.

It's them who got small.

And, a bonus.
A little Friday utz.

(Utz--Yiddish. To goad or needle.)