Friday, May 28, 2021

Fair play Friday.

Here are just 10 or so pages of ads I've seen for one ad agency looking to fill creative jobs. They had 10 pages more or 20 or 30 that I didn't copy. I'm sure you get the point.

Over the past two days or maybe three, I've heard from about 97 different advertising recruiters.

I've made it quite clear since I was kicked to the curb by Ogilvy after being needed enough to work about 30 weekends a year, give up two vacations a year, lead two pitches a year and help run big accounts, that I was through with the agency business.

My epigram regarding Ogilvy was simple: I didn't leave Ogilvy. Ogilvy left me.

The values that helped the place grow were abided by no longer. The simplest, "first-class business in a first-class way," was probably the first to go. Second might have been, "to be most valued by those who most value brands."

Instead, the place became small and impecunious. It no longer worked to be important to clients. It worked instead to get awards and PR for itself. 

"George," these calls usually begin, breathlessly. Sometimes I feel like I'm on the receiving end of a 911 call.

"I have something really big at _______________."

"Marsha," (I've known her since I was 26) "You know I've left the business, never to return. Agencies don't pay anymore. There's no job security. You work around the clock. And I'm making three-times my Ogilvy salary at GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company."

"But, George. This is the big job."

"That's fine. But agencies no longer pay a living wage."

"But, George. This is the big job. Do you know anyone?"

"What about Simon? He's looking. He's good."

"Well, he's..." Marsha hesitated.

"He's what? A male? White? A white male. A 57-year-old white male and a jew?"

There is now some nervous laughter from Marsha. She tried to bring the heat down a few hundred degrees.

"No one said that, George, I just don't think Simon's right."

"No one said that," I said, "but everybody's saying it without really saying it aloud. But it's being said every day. I mean Simon's won more major awards than anyone I know. He's funny, smart, energetic."

"He's just not right."

"I have a feeling," I said, as I've said so often, "every little thing  you're saying is true. But they all add up to one big, fat lie."

This will probably get me in a shitload of trouble. But it seems to me that at least two things are afflicting the agency business when it comes to hiring and keeping people.

One is that the optics of hiring might be given more weight than the talent and the track-record of the person being hired.

Two, and equally egregious, is that holding companies have put downward pressure on wages and have worked together to keep wages low. 

In a free market, a shortage of workers will drive salaries up. This is Adam Smith, the Invisible Hand and Paul Samuelson. Under the Holding Company oligarchy, it's not unusual for an agency (especially pharma shops) to post 75-150 job listings. 

But wages aren't rising to attract workers. In fact, I think they're going in the other direction. Because, after all, when market power is concentrated in coordinated hands, it can suppress salaries.

If I needed someone to clean my basement, I might put a sign in my yard saying "Basement Cleaner wanted. $15/hr."

If no one answered the call, I might change the offered wage to $20/hr. If that attracted no one, I might go up to $30. Like I said, this is, essentially, the law of supply and demand. It's been abrogated in modern America.

There's something going on here that goes against most of what we were supposed to have been taught in kindergarten.

It's called treating people fairly.

If you want to dimensionalize it a bit, treating people fairly and paying people fairly.

If smart people got together to chronicle the demise of a once-great industry--an industry that built the American economy into the greatest producer and distributor of wealth the world has ever known, they could probably identify dozens if not hundreds of reasons.

You can probably come up with a handful yourself.

But I think it starts--and yes, ends--with the reason I noted above.

Being fair.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Baseball, Beckett and Bums.

A couple days ago, someone I don't know criticized one of my blog posts. She made me think of the shallowness, perhaps the stupidity, of what I had written. I really had no defense. Nothing to say in response.

But it got me thinking. 

Not thinking of excusing myself--I've never thought of myself as advertising's Wittgenstein--philosophically I'm more Dagwood Bumstead than Ludwig.

What I started thinking about was this: Sometimes I suck. Sometimes I miss. Sometimes, in the parlance of New York schoolyard basketball, I stink up the court.

The thing I realized is simple.

I'm simple. And I operate on a simple belief.

Blogging and advertising and most things that matter, are like baseball.

You don't play once-a-week, you play every day. Like when I played ball in for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League (AA) way back in 1975. I think we played 130 games in 135 days.

That's not fucking around. That's not doing things some times. That's not waiting until the mood strikes you. 

That's every day.

If you do something every day, sometimes you suck. In baseball, sometimes you swing like a rusty gate. Sometimes your arm feels like a dead snake. Sometimes when you run you feel like you're encased in hardening cement.

It's the same thing with most things. 

Marriage. Fatherhood. Friendship. Work. Breathing. Life itself.

Sometimes you suck.

You wake up on the wrong side of the hammock. Or your demons get the better of you, or your doubts and fears. Or the voices you suppress--because we're all suppressing voices--somehow grow louder and plague you like a Greek chorus made up of everything that's ever frightened you. 

I remember one ballgame, so many summers ago, with our best arm, Orestes "Tito" Puente on the hill. Puente went 16-4 that sunny, benighted summer--and for much of the year was unhittable.

But that afternoon, his pitches were like mosquitos drawn into a bug zapper. Throw/crack. Throw/crack. Throw/crack.

Hector and Buentello came out to the mound--in inning one we were already down by three with none out. The dew wasn't even dry in the outfield.

From third, I crept up to the fringe of the mound. I liked to know what was going on. I still do.

Tito handed Hector the pill. "Parece que están acertando la bola curva, chicos." They seem to be hitting the curve, boys.

Yep, somedays you suck.

That's one reason I prefer the Greek gods to the Judeo-Christian god. The Greeks had no illusions of perfection. Their gods were as flawed as people themselves.


That's me.

Now, as Samuel Beckett said, "Fail, fail, fail again better." Or as he said in "Godot," 

"You must go on."

"I can't go on."

"I'll go on."

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Satanic banners.

The great writer--both of my daughters' favorite writer--Salman Rushdie, had an opinion piece in the Times on Monday that's really worth reading. Especially if you're in advertising and your world is infested with pompous twerps who call themselves storytellers, or data-storytellers, or they're storytellers who tell stories about plastic-wrap and room-freshener. You can read Rushdie's article here. Let me know if you have paywall problems. I won't help, but I will tell you to spend the money to subscribe to The New York Times. Sure, it's imperfect, but it's still one of the last-bastions of liberal democracy.

We live in a world where people call a commercial for chewing gum or an Instagram ad "genius." Maybe we should spend a bit more time considering writing like this:

"Before there were books, there were stories. At first the stories weren’t written down. Sometimes they were even sung. Children were born, and before they could speak, their parents sang them songs, a song about an egg that fell off a wall, perhaps, or about a boy and a girl who went up a hill and fell down it. As the children grew older, they asked for stories almost as often as they asked for food.

"The children fell in love with these stories and wanted to hear them over and over again. Then they grew older and found those stories in books. And other stories that they had never heard before, about a girl who fell down a rabbit hole, or a silly old bear and an easily scared piglet and a gloomy donkey, or a phantom tollbooth, or a place where wild things were. The act of falling in love with stories awakened something in the children that would nourish them all their lives: their imagination."

Many decades ago, hearkening way back beyond the '80s to the '60s, the progenitor of modern advertising said that the best advertising is based on "Simple, timeless human truths."

Since then, and especially at shops that are run by either consultants or technologists (which, today, is most every agency) there are legions of sub-literate people who blanket the cyber-galaxy with pontifications declaring that humanity and human behavior has fundamentally and inexorably changed.

If you know anything about the history of our planet, or even our species, you'd know that from a developmental point of view, time is measured not in weeks or even years, but for things to have an effect--like the rise or fall of oxygen in the atmosphere--often takes 50 million or 100 million years. When you think of the age of Earth--roughly five-billion years (unless you're a Republican) things seldom really change. 

Even plate tectonics, responsible for the breaking apart of the continents--is very slow. We're about 2,500 miles from the coast of England--and moving farther away at the breathtaking speed of an inch a year. Think about that. Then think about the size of the Atlantic.

BTW, you might want to read this book next time you feel the planet is spinning out of control.

But this post isn't about the origins of our planet or of humanity.

It's about the timelessness of Rushdie's words above. And the genuine and seminal importance of writing to our species.

Let me repeat that, because it's my blog and I can. And the genuine and seminal importance of writing to our species.

Every day in my various feeds I get ads and self-promotions from giant corporations and giant advertising agencies that are all-but incomprehensible. I literally don't know what they mean. Or they are so poor and pompous that I refuse to take the time to find out. Normally, I'd conceal the logos of the companies that put this shit out, but I'm angry.

I'm angry for two reasons.

One, half the entities that issue shit like this call themselves storytellers, or story-scapers, or story-crafters, or story-sculptors, or story-curators.

Two, when you're writing and representing a company--or approving words that come from a company, you are performing a basic human act. See Rushdie, above. You have power in your fingertips, and I believe a commitment, therefore, to transmit something clear, human and truthful.

The same way a mechanic has a commitment to fix a faulty  engine, you as a writer have to make a commitment to use our language with respect and with respect for the reader.

These are not acceptable. 

I don't understand them.

And I don't admire those who are responsible for them.

I'm happy to discuss all this with any of the companies involved in any of this work. I'm happy to re-write for you and to show you how clear communication, in the words of Dale Carnegie, wins friends and influences people.

If your ads do better than mine, no charge.

If mine perform better than yours, I'll send you a bill. 

A large one. For showing you how it's done.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Latin, Brando, Economics and You.

This post is going to involve some basic Latin, Western legal frameworks and modern economics and marketing, so if your brain has atrophied entirely from too much cable news, too many laugh-tracks and too many lies that you can't deal with complexity, I invite you to skip the post. Tomorrow, I promise I'll write about something less grave, like sea levels rising up to 200 feet as both ice caps melt because we like pick-up trucks.

Let me start with Western legal concepts. The law, de jure, in the United States begins with the concept that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. I say de jure of course, because the presumption of innocence is often abnegated if you're a person of color or doing something heinous like wearing a hoodie.

The Napoleonic code, the law in France and Louisiana, is different. It presumes guilt and innocence has to be proven.

I'm no lawyer--though I did okay on my LSATs--I decided to disappoint my harridan of a mother and not work for a living, but I understand the basics of that.

Now, a little Latin--other than de jure. 

First, is the word sincere. Literally, it means "without wax." In olden days, wine-sellers would sell amphorae of wine. Unscrupulous ones, say the Raymour & Flanagans of Roman times, would coat the insides of their amphorae with wax. The buyer would get more wax and less wine. It was harder to get your drunk on.

If a wine-seller said he was sincere, it meant you were getting the genuine article--more wine than wax. A companion piece of this is Caveat emptor. In English, "let the buyer beware."

Rome, for all its advances in conquering the world and building aqueducts, had no legal system. The third of the population who were enslaved had no rights at all. And if a crime was perpetrated by or against someone with wealth, they would take it in their own hands to seek redress. There were no cops. Like in the Mafia, crime and punishment were a family affair.

In our modern world today billions if not trillions of dollars are being spent by giant corporations and politicians to convince you that they are good for the world.

Here's one example I found in the LinkedIn feed of someone I respect.

Arianna here seems to be telling us that Walmart (Canada or otherwise) are good folks because their EVP of People and Corporate Affairs is speaking out about the need for mental health.

You get this kind of bushwa everywhere. Nike makes the world more athletic and noble. Nothing about slave labor in their East Asian factories. Apple too. They make us creative. But they employ slaves in China and skirt billions and billions in taxes. 

Here's where I attempt to weave all this nonsense together.

Your job as a citizen of planet earth, IMHO, is to regard people as innocent until proven guilty and corporations Napoleonically--as guilty until proven innocent.

I have no respect for those who "thumbs up" a petrochemical company like Chevron for spending $100 million on environmental research when their profit since 2018 adds up to just under $170 billion. That's like you having $1700, and giving one dollar to charity. It's all but meaningless.

It puzzles me, I'll admit, why we seem to hate our neighbors but admire the companies laying waste to our planet. 

Most people claim to be unaffected by advertising and image campaigns and PR, but here we are applauding Bank of America--which almost destroyed the Global Economic System--earning applause for sponsoring Shakespeare in the Park. They paid off probably a half-a-trillion dollars of economic mayhem with probably $1 million or phony largesse.

I don't think the ad industry can do much about this. If Chevron offered me their $100 million account, or Nike or Apple, I wouldn't say no.

But I suppose if I were the Four A's, or if I were still teaching my children how to read, I'd teach them how to spot lies. It's important.

It's important to call out the lies people tell--whether they're giant corporations, a local dry cleaner, or the people who run the Holding Company that keeps NOT adjusting your wages for inflation because their profits are "razor-thin."

I expect corporations and executives to lie to me fairly regularly. That's ok, and really I'm ok with it. Just don't think I'm so stupid that I don't know that you're lying. I do.

I just can't do anything about it.

No one can.

Monday, May 24, 2021

What's the difference?

One of the best things that ever happened to my career was getting fired from R\GA where I was an Executive Creative Director running their first television account, at the age of 56.

Undoubtedly, being fired sucks but you can't let it suck the life out of you. You have to figure things out.

I quickly landed a two-day freelance job with Brian Collins and his great, at the time, 20-person shop. Way back in 2014, they were housed within Ogilvy & Mather (when Ogilvy was still a growing, viable agency) and soon people from Ogilvy began asking me for help.

But I knew I didn't want to be a long-term freelancer. I wanted to get a full-time job.

One of the things that seems lost in the ad world today is the distinction between saying what a brand or product does and why that brand or product is better.

The new 154-second Extra gum spot is a good example of this malady. It's a decent spot, but it's for the category, not for Extra itself. (It's also the length of more than five normal gum spots and since Extra doesn't give me five-times the chewing pleasure, as a piece of advertising, it doesn't work for me.) It doesn't tell me why Extra. So if I'm compelled to buy gum at all from the spot, it doesn't give me any especial reason to buy Extra.

Compare the efficacy of that spot with this spot from Fiat--which tells me why I need to buy a Fiat, not that I merely need to buy a car, and you'll see what I mean. 

The Extra spot, to be repetitive is for the category. The Fiat spot is for that one car.

Now, back to me.

I needed an agency not to hire a copywriter. I needed them to hire me. I didn't want a category sale. I wanted a George sale. So I set to showing what I could that  makes me different and better--not just what makes me available.

In part, that's where this blog comes in. Just about anyone can write the "obligatory" blog. Find some funny photos or a joke or a meme and post something once a week. Follow that protocol, as so many have, and chances are your blog will fizzle in a few months after not having taken off at all.

But remember, I wanted people within agencies to say, "I need me some of that George." Or, likely more accurately, "George is a fucking obstreperous asshole but he writes like nobody's business. I'll put up with his bullshit just so that I can get his pen."

Rightly or wrongly, I set my sights on the agency that used to be called Ogilvy and on their flagship account, the market-cap $150 billion IBM account, not the $20,000 Zippo lighters account.

And I set out, like I've done every morning since 1983, to make myself smarter than the average copywriter. Some of the best "intelligence" on the business world comes from the cheery neo-fascist Wall Street Journal, so I read it every morning. Until I knew more about the Cloud, more about AI, more about the Quantum pipeline and IBM's massive business issues than probably anyone else in the world.

I also wrote a pretty good blog post every day. So the people looking for people to hire could see what I could do, every day. I suppose in advertising we call that "showing, not telling." And that's what I tried to do.

If competitive copywriters were worried about style and euphony, I was able to contribute more substantively. I was able to help guide the brand strategically--because I knew something about the brand and its marketplace. I wasn't just a stylist. To use a missile metaphor, I set my sights as an ICBM, not just a Howitzer.

Finally, I got to know the CCO who was running the account. I noticed he got in around eight.

So I got in around seven. And about once-a-week I had fresh copy in his in-box for him to enjoy. Oh, and whenever there was a log jam or an inferno, I went running toward it. The best way to become indispensable is to be indispensable.

There are about twenty-million self-proclaimed copywriters in the world. And the number isn't decreasing. If you want to be the one--if you want to be chosen--you have to stand out.

Assume for a second that no one can really tell or remember the difference between one writer or another. It's like telling the difference between one stick of gum or another. It's pretty hard to distinguish between Bazooka, Duble Bubble and Extra. 

One good portfolio or reel is not discernibly better than another. You might be able to recognize a difference between Ed McCabe and me, but not McCabe and Marty Puris.

So you have to do something more.

You have to be not just different, differenter.

And show the world that you are and how you are.


Friday, May 21, 2021

Agencies and agency.

I think a lot about the failure of our current economic system and its accelerating race to the bottom. I'll focus on the ad industry here, because it's what I know. But I'm about 97% certain what is happening in advertising is happening in just about every other industry, too.

It starts of course at the very top. With the people who run the holding companies and the people at the uppermost stratosphere of individual agencies.

These are the people who are driving those companies into the ground. Shattering entire industries and destroying lives. Because to them, everything is extractive. Wherever they work, they treat it like an oil well or coal mine. They extract the value, profit enormously and leave nothing behind but a slag heap. Reinvestment ain't for them. 

40 years ago, CEO salaries were about 25 times those of median salaries. So, if a copywriter got paid $10,000, a CEO might make $250,000. Today, that same copywriter might be making $100,000. But the CEO isn't making $2,500,000--25 times more than the copywriter. Now CEOs routinely average 200-300 times the salaries their median employees earn. Today, he'd be making $25,000,000. Here's a real-life agency example, pulled from the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Michael I. Roth, you can see, makes 231 times the pay of a median employee.

But this post isn't about inequities in income distribution. What plagues our economy and our industry is more insidious than that. It's the great mismatch between talent and responsibility.

Here's what I mean. 

To get a job in advertising, you need to be ambitious. 

You need to be passionate. You need to grab the gender-normative bull by the horns. The people the industry has historically attracted are those who want things yesterday. They're fast and bright and hungry.

But you can't be any of those things (and survive) if you work in an agency today.

Sure there are exceptions. People who are taken care of. But most people--even when they're young--have to wait 12 months or 18 or even 24 months to get something like a 3% raise (even though inflation hovers around 4%. Many people actually get real salary decreases every year.) As you get older, raises are even less frequent. And in many many cases, bonuses of any sort, especially for the hoi polloi, have vanished.


We want ambitious, hungry, aggressive people. 

But not when it comes to their own careers.

Then, they should be docile, patient and afflicted with lassitude. "It'll come," we want them to say. "I'm lucky I have a job," is another corporate favorite.

No ball team, to strain a metaphor, signs on speedsters and then says, "don't take the extra base." "Don't steal second." "Don't stretch a two-bagger into a triple." No, you gear your team around the talent you have. And you acquire talent based on the kind of game you want to play. 

If you believe in power--you find power-hitters. Speed and defense, you find little guys named Sparky.

In advertising, gearing people to their jobs is all out of whack. Big agencies act like the Navy--ponderous and process-driven. But they still hiring pirates. Then fire them because they don't fit in and don't follow the rules which are often retrograde and counter-productive.

I was talking to my long-time therapist early yesterday morning and he asked how GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company was going.

"Well, Owen," I answered. "I seem to have restored the relationship between hard work and pay. I bust my ass, work nine days a week, but I get paid for it."

Owen said something banal, "That's good," or some such.

"I guess what I'm saying is this," I said. "I learned who I am and what I can do."

"That's right," Owen said.

And then I blurted this line. And that's where I'll end for the week.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

When the shark bites.

Like so many people--lucky people, I'll add--It's been 17 months since I was fired from Ogilvy for being old and about 20 months since I've taken a vacation. 

Since I was ageism'd out of the industry, my life has turned upside-down. There's no joy in finding yourself unemployed at any time. But to be thrown out as useless because ostensibly you're old is enough to leave you feeling gutted. 

Fortunately, my reputation in the industry was solid enough for me to quickly--after my severance ended--gain employment. I went to work freelance for Ogilvy's ex-CCO, Steve Simpson and then, rather quickly, clients began beating a path to my keyboard.

I had decided since I was canned that I really couldn't afford any longer to work at an agency. By the time they're done paying their Holding Company vig, their ever-expanding roster of c-suite executives, the line of black-cars that waits outside the office every night, there's really no money for the people who do the work.

That doesn't include, of course, subsidizing the failing office in East Fonguick, $7000/night suites at Cannes, three or five former CEOs paid in perpetuity, and so it goes. The chart directly above shows this isn't just me being bitter.

But for all that, thank whatever or whomever you believe in.

Though the lesson for me is believing in yourself.

Because since Holding Company economics decided to rid a once august agency of the bulk of its talent, my new work-life has restored some long-time precepts that had been shattered by corporate power, monopolistic practices and runaway shareholder capitalism.

Primary among these is the most basic. Something that's been missing from our trickle-down belly-up economy for virtually my whole life.

In short, and for the first time in decades, the more I work, the more I earn.

You'd think that equation would be pretty simple--even fair, if I can use naive principles like fairness.

But the titans of the ad business have broken the correlation between work and pay. They've broken the loyalty equation--you're meant to be loyal to the company, to work nights and weekends (without extra-pay) and you'll get nothing back. 

When I was fired at 4:15 in the afternoon, about six hours after the rest of my tranche, I was offered a paltry amount of severance which did not include my previous years of service.

"We're just going by the book, George," they said.

"Did you go by the book when you had me cancel vacations, work around the clock, work every weekend and always come through to handle disasters? Did you go by the book, then?"

Of course, there's no answer to any of this. There's just this, from Mr. Welles, who knew about corruption, dishonesty and the venal.

This is Amerika, today. And there's nothing any of us little people can do about it.

But there is this: The other night, late, I got a note from a client. I deal with smaller clients now than I had--but I'm dealing with the C-level, not fourteen steps to get to the C-level.

"George, I have an hour on Friday. I'd love to see some work."

This was Tuesday, late, and I had just gotten my proposal approved four hours earlier. I hadn't started writing yet.

"Sure," I answered.

I'll be ready.

And the work will be good.

Because it's my work. And my choice. And my money. And my rewards.

And that's the way the business should be.

When you run things for clients, and workers, and the work.

Not for speculators, arbitragers, and Ponzi-schemers.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Piss filled plates.

Many decades ago, I had the great good fortune of being a protege of Steve Hayden. At the time Steve was Vice Chairman at Ogilvy, in addition to being the writer on perhaps the most influential commercial ever, Apple's 1984.

Because we liked each other as humans, and Steve liked my brain and my thirst for knowledge (Steve wrote a recommendation of me, calling me "easily the most literate fellow that ever passed through the hallowed halls of Ogilvy, probably including David Ogilvy himself") and we would often find ourselves hanging out together in his modest corner office.

There, we would shoot the shit. Nominally talking about the issue at hand but having a wide-ranging conversation on everything from the population of Jalalabad--Steve claimed Jell-o was invented there--to whatever bullshit was happening at work, with our kids or with our significant others.

I've spent a lot of time in the ad business--and before that in academia--and I've been close to a fair number of luminaries. But those conversations with Steve are among the highlights in a career marked by lighting reminiscent of Hernando's Hideaway.

One of the things I noticed through the years is that Steve would often ask people he only vaguely knew where they were in their family's birth order. 

I don't think he was pondering a return of primogeniture. He was testing a hypothesis. One day, I asked him about it. He said,

"First children naturally get attention. Middle children or later children have to learn how to get attention. They make the best advertising people. They're always fighting to be heard."

In my new career, I'm often called on to look at work that in-house communications departments have created. As an interested former ad-person, I pay attention or try to, to how people communicate. It's distressing to me to see how rare it is to see work--or news, or an email, or a press-release--that is fighting to be heard. Most just sit there like lichen on an old boulder.

I don't want to get all crazy about this, but I wonder. I wonder if the au courant mania where everyone is praised and everyone gets a trophy has damaged along with children, our industry.

Every time I sit down to write something--a note to my wife that I'm out walking the dog or a text to a colleague that I'm running late--my starting point is almost always the same: no one cares.

So if I'm going to write something--no matter how inconsequential--my job is to make the reader care, make them notice, make them remember.

I almost always write, "I'm running six minutes and twelve seconds late," rather than a few minutes late. Because it's memorable. I almost always write, "I'm out walking Whiskey and looking for a young Catherine Deneuve." 

Years ago I noticed something about the web.

There's no hierarchy.

There's really no order.

Everything is a Jackson Pollack--waiting for you to find your favorite splatter. 

Or, put another way, when I taught ad school not too long ago, my first assignment was always the same. It wasn't for a product or a service. It was for whatever the kids wanted. The twist was this: You had to do something that would get noticed in Times' Square.

This was a deliberate choice on my part.

Today the world is Times' Square.

The killing in Israel and Gaza forces the chip shortage off the news which forced the vaccine rollout off which forced the trump insurrection off. Mix in Jewish space laser, Matt Gaetz, Gates and Epstein and 99 other scandals and you realize you have no hope communicating anything if you don't get noticed.

But as my old boss Ed Butler used to say, most work is "as flat as a plate of piss."

A metaphor I noticed. 


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Blueberries and advertising.

Maybe it's a form of neuroses--I'm no stranger to that malady--but I am forever drawing parallels from the business practices of larger entities or sectors and seeing if they apply to advertising.

For instance, some years ago I realized that the Holding Companies really resembled giant chain stores like Home Depot or The Screw Barn.

They've stripped service out of their offering and compete almost solely on purportedly low prices and breadth of goods. Most people under 60 don't remember when there were local stores run by knowledgeable people that supplied a superior product. Everything now is dull, mass-produced and the creative equivalent of carcinogenic particleboard made by near-slaves in China. 

You can't get something well-made--a vanity or a shower door--even if you're willing to pay for it. These behemoths cater only, in a sense, to procurement and some transmutation of Jeremy Bentham--where they provide the greatest amount of crap to the crappiest tastes.

I'm a bit roiled now, I think with good reason.

First, the lumber yard guy put the requisite, architect-approved five-panel door in against the back wall of our small garage. As I backed my Simca up to go to the supermarket, the door slammed down with a loud thud on the hood of my 65-year-old-sedan. Fortunately, 1966 Simcas were made with recycled steel from old French World War Two era armored vehicles and it resisted damage.

Then I drove to the grocery store and got all the groceries I was instructed to. 

The cashier said, "do you want paper or plastic." The kid at the end of the checkout started putting my groceries in paper. As he was doing that, the handles tore off one of the bags they were charging me a dime for.

"These bags really suck," he said.

I hastened him along. I just wanted to leave the store and I hardly need conversations about paper bags on Friday afternoon after a long week.

Arriving home, I lifted the bag out of the trunk of Simca and the entire bag fell apart. The blueberries I bought, which the food industry has decided to wrap in petro-chemical derived plastic packaging, fell on my driveway. Blueberries were everywhere.

And a word popped into my mind.


Everything today is shoddy.

Jobs are done.

Doors are delivered. Groceries are bagged. But there is abundant evidence that no one cares about anything. They'll get the same starvation-wage whether they do a good job or just go through the motions. So why bother.

To be clear I see the same from the ad industry. The corporate communications I read in the trade press and in social media are written without charm or wit or grace. There is a complete absence of panache and taste. Shit, to use the vernacular, gets thrown together, emitted out into the ether and stinks. 

What's more half of the crap agencies send out are blatantly half true. Half truths are worse than outright lies, because they're built on the presumption that you're too stupid to notice.

Most work is ugly. Non-sensical. Insensitive. Bland. Loud. And obviously constructed with little thought or care. 

This is really no surprise.

Like chain stores, advertising agencies now have just skeleton staffs. It's hard to find someone to wait on you. Or show up on time. Or care.

And that skeleton staff has tons of shit to sell. Say, one-thousand Instagram ads a day. Churn churn churn.

I read that in the 18th Century, the Royal Navy was having a terrible manpower problem. The East India Company was paying wages that were about three-times as high. Whereas the Navy's wages had been fixed for more than a century. Consequently--impressment (taking drunks off the streets) was just about the only way the Royal Navy could get men.

You get what you pay for. Or kidnap.

Based on my own personal experience, I'd guess that in real dollars, agency wages have dropped over the last century--and even in adjusted dollars have remained relatively flat for a quarter of a century. (C-suite and Holding Companies excepted.)

Which brings me back to the word shoddy.

Under such conditions, how can we expect anything but?

Shoddy treatment gets shoddy work.

And all the modern bushwa about caring companies means nothing if you're not paying people. Or giving them space. And help. And training. And thanks. And senior people to teach them.

All of that is gone from American business today. All of that is gone from the ad industry.

That's why there are a hundred blueberries strewn all over my driveway.

Monday, May 17, 2021

We've forgotten how.

I'm an inveterate reader of newspapers and always have been. That is probably a function of the era I grew up in. It was much less TV-centric and there was no internet.

The best reporting came from newspapers. Local news, like high school sports, and comics you could get from papers like "The Daily Item," which I delivered for a year, having taken over the route from my older brother, Fred. Our route had about 60 suburban houses on it--so you dropped off about 300 papers a week at about four-cents a paper, plus tips. On a good week, you could make about $30. Probably equal to about $200 today.

If you loved baseball, as I did, you looked forward to your old man bringing home a New York Post from his commute home on the New Haven line. My father never bought a Post--it was New York's afternoon paper and commuters would leave it on their train seats, having checked the baseball scores from the west coast and the stocks. The morning papers didn't have west coast scores in those days. It was a world where people actually slept. I think we were better for that.

Of course, I've always loved the Times and the Wall Street Journal, too. The Journal, though its opinion page is horribly anti-democratic and pro-hate/fascism, gives the ambitious copywriter a leg up on his competition. Despite the hostility its editorial pages express toward decency and humanity, it has more brilliance per lineage than any other paper. I routinely send more WSJ articles to business friends than articles from anyone else. They seem a couple weeks ahead of everyone else.

The great Chris Wall, when he ran the IBM account, would often berate many of us who worked on the business. You never wanted to cry "uncle" in front of Chris and say you couldn't get something done.

I remember all 6'11" of him standing up in front of us idiots. He held an opened Times in one hand and the Journal in the other.

"They fill these every day. And it's pretty high-quality. I think we can do a couple ads."

Like me, Chris began his getting-paid-for writing career writing retail ads. Chris, I believe, wrote for the LA-based retailer, Rich's. I wrote ads for Bloomingdale's.

I think writing ten ads a week as we each had, gives you respect for the channel. And respect for putting words on paper. And respect for your job--knowing if your ads didn't pull, you'd wind up on unemployment.

Of late, I've been noticing how absolutely dreadful 99% of all online ads are. Maybe that's not entirely fair because about 95% of all ads suck--but I virtually never see a decent online ad.

I think what's happening in our industry is a stupidity spill not unlike the Deepwater Horizon. When interactive first came into vogue, many of the people who populated the industry operated under the same thinking as people from the direct-end of the advertising industry. They believed targeting was so perfect that they could reach people through targeting alone and why bother trying to be interesting. Targeting could take care of all of that.

Send an ad on scuba equipment to a scuba diver and you needn't bother being attention-getting.

The direct industry always lived by the dogma "list, offer, creative." That is, targeting, goose, communication. I think the online industry--and the traditional advertising industry--have both adopted this dictum. Why bother with being creative? Data will handle it.

Most often when Holding Company big-wigs talk it's about having bought a data company. You never hear anyone say, we need lines like "We run the tightest ship in the shipping business. Lines that help a company define who they are." I've seen the moguls bang on about "borderless creativity," or "Lion-winning creativity," but I've never heard anyone say, "that was a fucking good line."

Here are seven online ads I've seen lately. No stopping power. No impact. Nothing interesting or unique. Nothing even remotely real or honest.

I've never seen anyone who looks like the people above. And I've never laughed, smiled and orgasmed while sharing my screen.

The newspaper industry, unlike the ad industry, still seems to be interested in earning our eyeballs and clicks. Some of their headlines, in fact, still seem designed to attract attention. Get this, they're well-written, interesting, informative, provocative and, even, funny. 






As an industry, we should try those sometime. 

It might be a way to show respect for the viewer, to treat them well and to earn their trust.

That might be a start.