Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Every day writing.

Lenin wrote over 100 years ago, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” I've always kept that incongruity in mind as I've tried to pick my way through life.

I say pick my way because sometimes, let's face it, trying to get from point A to point B in your career, in a relationship, anywhere, is like trying to walk across a park on the Upper West Side in Manhattan in the 1970s before pooper scooper laws were put in place. You'd have to be as nimble as Sandy Duncan on oxycontin not to step full-foot in a heaping pile of rottweiler rot.

As my old manager, Hector Quesadilla used to say, "When you're up to your neck in shit and someone starts throwing baseballs at you, do you duck?"

My point in all this is simple, writing--whether it's for a blog or for a client, or just to get a client--ain't a some time thing. Going back to Vladimir Ilyich above, you can't wait for the week when decades happen. You can't wait till your mind is fertile and your juices are flowing, you have to supplicate the gods every day.

In other words, you have to do a decade's worth of work every day, whether you're in the mood or not.

I'm sorry. That's the dog-shit reality of making a living. You keep moving forward. And watch your step.

Since my brutal upbringing by a mother who got drummed out of the Hitler Youth for being too doctrinaire and harsh, I have always had a pronounced super-ego to satisfy. 

Writing for me has always been like working out or pitching baseballs. You always try for an extra rep or an extra snap on the curve. As a coach once said to me with the terseness of a Stoic--a grudging one, "Work works."

Accordingly, I have always chosen to have people to haunt me, people I admire who will be let down, disappointed and angry at me if I do an unusually piss-poor job. If I don't do the work I need to do.

I remember as a middle-teenager, showing my father something I had written. He said, "It kind of ends on a downslope, doesn't it. Shouldn't it end up--pregnant. So the reader wants more?" My father was an autodidact, like me, but that's some of the best writing advice I've ever received.

I also see in my head furrowed brows from people I have worked for. When I wrote technology copy for IBM for Chris Wall and Steve Hayden, they had been sculpted on the Mount Rushmore of modern copywriting. They'd probably given up on reading every word I wrote--but I knew they were out there. And I wrote as if they were reading bullwhip in hand.

The same holds true today with a dozen or half a dozen people. My business partner Hilary isn't a writer herself, but she can hear a sour note as surely as Shostakovich. I also imagine Rob Schwartz shaking his wise head at some fractured phrase, or Joe Alexander, David Baldwin or Rich Siegel. Steve Simpson. Others I'll never know.

I have to live up to them.

Real or imagined these are my mentors and tormentors. They impel me to impel myself. And it's better to impel than to smell.

I wonder how many people left in our business hear voices--or have paragons that they seek to please or an internal set of standards they can't betray. Internal is the key word for me. Pleasing a client, or an exalted boss, or even a competitor always meant more to me than an abstract piece of plastic.

About twenty years ago, I got asked by my daughters' private school to write for their parents' newsletter. The parents of the school were so elite as to make the readership of the Paris Review look like fans of Archie comics. Woody Allen's collaborator, Marshall Brickman was the editor. And writing an article on the math department that would suit the tastes of Mr. Brickman was no simple task.

I realize I am blessed with a special sort of neurosis. It's why my blood pressure is high, my sleep is lousy and my cuticles are bitten away and bloody. 

But from ancient times humans have always looked to create something that would leave them remembered by subsequent generations. I have my daughters of course. And I suppose a legion and a half of young ad people I've helped. And I have the ads I've written and the writing I've done.

None of it is bound in Morocco leather and slip-cased in the Library of Congress or studied by PhD. students at Ungapotch University.

And that's fine.

But someday, when I'm gone and my head is served up on a silver-plated platter garnished with roasted red potatoes and a few sere sprigs of parsley, someone's going to say something like this: "He wasn't much good. But shit, he was consistent."

Maybe that's enough.

It is for today, anyhow.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A 4,000 year-old advertising class.

I often get notes or phone calls or a digital tap on the shoulder from people asking me about advertising and how to reach people in this era of short-attention spans and variegated media channels.

Most people, I think wrongly, assume that all peoples, since the beginning of time, didn't feel overly busy with way too many ways to message others. I'd imagine that neanderthals in Lascaux fretted about not being able to keep up with cave paintings, much less still have time to make stone axes and other hand tools. And fuck me, those Mammoths aren't going to catch, kill and skin themselves.

It is a human verity that every generation thinks that theirs is the busiest ever, has the least ability to focus, the most distractions and the greatest number of existential threats. Our generation is not different, just maybe a bit out in the open about things. After all, there are dust-bunnies with 20,000 Twitter followers.

All that being said, how do we reach people when we're more time-pressed than ever before and have more distractions, too, at least according to us?

I for one, have a simple solution. I go back to the Greeks. To Homer and the myth-makers (not an early rock and roll band.) And I read their stories.

Anyone who thinks these stories are boring, or convoluted, or esoteric, or not relevant today because they are three-thousand or five-thousand years old, hasn't tried them. And what you're missing out on by not trying them are stories and story-telling (real story telling, not some AI-derived copy about Saran Wrap) that is so ancient and elemental as to be the stuff of morals, adventure and our very DNA.

It never ceases to amaze me the vast amount of Britney-bullshit we consume, or Ellen DeGeneres jabberwocky or we argue over Jeopardy! hosts, when we are living in the golden age of great contemporary authors looking to the ancient writings to find the archeological core of what it means to be human.

Many of these authors, of late, seem to be women. They've taken up the important task of telling the old tales from a woman's point of view--a way they hadn't been told before. This shift in perspective brings a freshness and a vivacity to the old tales. 

From Penelope, angry at the wayward Odysseus, and chastising him in her never-sent letters. From Briseis, enslaved first by Achilles and then stolen by Agamemnon, to be his sex-slave. By Clytemnestra, whose daughter Iphegenia was killed by the same Agamemnon to placate the gods and get a favorable wind so he and his armies could steal Helen back from Paris who stole her from Menelaus.

There are stories of gods, like Circe, and her freeing of Prometheus--and disdaining Zeus. I am no scholar--I don't have a curriculum. I read the book reviews of the Times and the Wall Street Journal and they give me so many suggestions I feel like a starving man at an over-the-top Roslyn Bar Mitzvah--do a want the latke appetizer with apple sauce or the pigs in a blanket?

Like my Bar Mitzvah hors d' oeuvres metaphor, my reading is peripatetic and disorderly. It's rummaging through an old attic and happening upon strange things. I don't have the rapid recall I had in decades past, but at the age of 177, not much gets by me.

Like I said, there's a lot to read and all of it, I believe will make you a better writer. Or if you have children at home who you still read to, a better parent. 

You can start here, with Emily Wilson. The first woman to translate the Odyssey in 2000 years. Her retelling is a reteaching. And she marks down a line from Athena to Odysseus that to my eyes and brain is one of the great ones in all of Western literature. If you send me a note and ask nicely,
I scribble it out and send it to you.

You can dive off the deep end with virtually anything by the great Natalie Haynes. Haynes is classical literature's equivalent of Colleen DeCourcey, Susan Hoffman, Shelly Lazarus or Nancy Reyes. Combined. She's wise, prolific and as funny as anyone's who's ever put keyboard to digital paper.

If you want to start primordially, Stephen Fry, the classical raconteur, has a trilogy out now that will send you back and forward in time at the same time. You can start with Mythos, as I did, there you'll find stories of Ouranus' gonads, the Titans, eating your children and more. After you recover, move onto Heroes and end up burned to a KFC crisp 'neath the topless towers of Ilium, in Troy.

Here's a bit from the Wall Street Journal's book review on "Troy." It make me feel like I'm less of a 'vox clamantis in deserto,' less of a voice crying in the wilderness. (Who at times doesn't feel lonely that way?)

"Myths provide a key to understanding human nature and the greatest civilizations. In “Troy” Mr. Fry writes lyrically: “It is the intriguing distance, the blend of history, mystery, and myth, the interplay of the particular and the universal that makes the Homeric experience so rich and compelling. The action is played out on the golden horizon between reality and legend, the beguiling penumbra where fable and fact coexist. It is this that endows Homeric epic with the minute, realistic and vivid detailing that so animates and convinces, yet also gives us the glorious symbolism and dreamlike depth that only myth allows, with its divine interventions, supernatural episodes, and superhuman heroes.”

You might want to read that passage again. You'll seldom read a more radiant review of a more important work. Of course, if the same review were written by Bill Bernbach, he might have just said that Homer breathes life into “simple, timeless, human truths.” And that would be just as well.

Why am I blathering on about all this? 


Because I'm too busy.

Because five to eight clients are calling me a week to help them tell their brand stories. They come to me because there's no one else who knows about myth-making and origin stories and the power of human heritage. 

It doesn't matter what your advertising job. Or if you work for a big agency, for a client, or for a catalog house. 

You will be a better writer if you step away from Cannes. 
You will be a better writer if you close the awards annuals.
You will be a better writer if you stop looking only at the new.
You will be a better writer if you examine foundations.

You will learn all the things that aren't taught anymore. About structure. And form. And impact. Not to mention the spiders' webs of human emotions--like hatred, jealousy, love and spite.

These are the ingredients of the stew that makes not just a creative person, but a person.

Two hours a week for a year and you might be qualified to teach at Yale. 

Or at least become an ACD and get a $15K raise.

In any event, you and your writing, will become richer.

You owe me for that.

And for this, a poem by Ernest Dowson, who also seems to understand the value of myth.

They Are Not Long 

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam.*

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses,
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

*Life is short. Get off your ass.
(That's Horace. Unliterally translated by me.)

Monday, June 28, 2021

I'm scared.

After a week of Cannes-hell-Culture, I'm scared.

Sure I'm sickened, too, by the mendacity. By the fakeness of the work. Sickened by the scam. Sickened by the blatant self-promotion. Sickened by the lack integrity.

But something else is going on here.

As our industry reflects culture, I think we are reflecting the United Kingdom from 170 years ago.

And that is scary. Let me explain.

(What follows will be a little heady and a little rough. Much of it has been influenced by an article I read from the Atlantic Monthly almost 25 years ago by the brilliant Peter Drucker, called "Beyond the Information Revolution." Drop me an email and I'll send you a copy. It explains a lot.)


Drucker covers a lot of ground in his piece, which is mainly about the pace and peculiarities of technology adaptation. But he touches on another element, too. 

Why did the UK's economy fall so far behind the US's and Germany's, starting around 1850?

What Drucker contends is that as industrialization and modern production became more widespread, in the UK the notion of being a "business person" was considered by the elite classes to be a social inferior.

He says, "By the 1850s England was losing its predominance and beginning to be overtaken as an industrial economy, first by the United States and then by Germany. It is generally accepted that neither economics nor technology was the major reason. The main cause was social...."

"... England did not accept the technologist socially. He never became a "gentleman..."

Drucker continues:

"Nor did England develop the venture capitalist, who has the means and the mentality to finance the unexpected and unproved... England, although it invented and developed the commercial bank to finance trade, had no institution to finance industry...

So England looked down upon people who rolled up their sleeves and worked with machines. Grease under your fingernails and you would never get to be a Lord or a Lady.

I'm scared that the same sort of social sclerotic thinking is happening in advertising.

Part 1. Think of how many people in our industry when we all go around the room and introduce themselves, utter a title that has virtually no connection to actual work. 

They're "Content Impresarios" or "Working at the confluence of culture and commerce." But...WHAT DO YOU DO?

We reject honorable titles like copywriter (how I introduce myself) and art director. We say ECD or something equally obtuse. It's as if we're ashamed to show the aforementioned grease beneath our fingernails. (BTW, one of the reasons I write with a proper fountain pen is that they leak. A copywriter should always have ink on her hands. Don't trust one who doesn't. They're too clean for their trade.)

Part 2. Judging by what I've seen from Cannes this week, we are embarrassed to be seen as "selling." Somehow selling is dirty, crass, declasse. No. 

Today, we influence culture. We become companions. We're authentic guides on a customer journey.

Fuck me.

We need to sell shit.

Or clients will continue to do what they're already doing. Disregarding our industry and refusing to pay for us. And why should they? 

It seems most agencies are more concerned with their own brands and their own self-aggrandizement than their clients'. It's pretty simple really, if we don't take the time and the effort and do the math that shows we make money for them, they don't give money to us. How's that for a metric?

Admittedly, my eyes might be jaded. I've been around the industry my whole life and it seems that today we are more concerned about everything other than selling soap or cereal or software. How does it work? Why do I need it? What makes it different? We consider such objectives beneath the loftiness of our dying industry. 


We don't act as brands' agents anymore. We're not looking out of them. We don't, in the words of David Ogilvy, sell or else. 

We say we're going to make you part of culture.

And to be honest, I don't even know what that even means. Or why it's a good thing.

I'm not looking to Tide for anything other than clean laundry. Or Doritos for anything other than a snack. Or Gillette blades for anything other than a clean shave.

I don't need a brand to tell me how to be a man, or raise my children or eschew plastic bottles. 

When you're on a baseball team there's always a perfectly reliable glove man who can fill in anywhere. He usually weighs south of 160 and tops out at about 5'9". He's there to spell your second baseman, or shortstop or even third-baseman. He's a utility infielder. A fill-in.

A few of these guys get too big for their spikes. They start dreaming of hitting the long ball and grabbing the big contracts. 

Those are usually the guys tending bar at age 27. Their baseball careers long ended.

They forgot what they were good at. And tried to do things they shouldn't do.

Friday, June 25, 2021

As mindless an an Executive speaking at Cannes.

It seems like everyone and his sister has won a Serengeti's worth of Lions at Cannes this week. I think the US Census Bureau was contracted to count them all. But once they got past the number of grains of sand on the beach, they simply gave up.

About 20 years ago when I was working on IBM Thinkpad, I got a list of "support points," reasons why people should pay more for a Thinkpad than a Dell or an HP. Among those reasons was "winner of over 700 awards."

The account people insisted. 

The client insisted.

I refused.

Nothing should ever win 700 awards because there shouldn't be 700 awards. In all of world history there shouldn't be 700 awards. But today, Cannes and shows like Cannes seem to give out that many "Best of Shows" or "Grands Prix." I was under the foolish and dated impression that there can be only one best. But apparently, the entirety of the ad industry is awards polygamous.

You can have 91 best friends. 88 best cups of coffee in town. And 66 19-star hotels. Because? Because everything is a lie and the people playing the game are the only ones profiting from the lies.

The only thing more prolific than the number of asinine awards for work that has never really run, is the mind-boggling stupid statements by various senior-level executives bent on stating the obvious--tautologies or solipsisms--that add up to nothing more than nothing.

I'm not sure what motivates agencies or executives to issue these sorts of statements. To paraphrase Shakespeare, they seem like tales of sound and fury, told by idiots, signifying nothing--for profit. Does anyone look at something like this and say to themselves, "Break me off a hunk of that agency. I need them to make my brand a companion."

Or does anyone hearken back to a time before brands were expected to be coherent? "Do you remember the old days, honey, when brands were incoherent?" 

And I'm waiting for my bag of Doritos to lead me to self-actualization, as indicated here:

All this pre-amble--or, better, pre-ramble, leads to my introduction of a new feature of this humble blog, and with apologies to Jerzy Kozinski:

No one knows the sound of one hand clapping--but we all know the effect of one hand on the remote. 

You can see much further when the radio is turned off and the podcast is playing on a big screen.

As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.

We welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
And we use too much seasoning in general.

The era of proclaiming this era over is over.

Everything is dead. But declaring things dead is very much alive.

Consumers have the power to be referred to as people. 

Before you target people, make sure they want to be aimed at.

We have buckets of consumers. But kegs of beer. Someone will be thirsty.

To speed your digital transformation data must be hybrid, high-bridge and high-britches.

It's time advertisers get with the programmable.

People may want to have sex with anonymous brands but they only marry brands they love.

We are a creative transformation company that transformed our company to be 40 percent smaller year over year.

We are a global brand and customer experience agency that harnesses creativity, technology, and culture to create connected brands. But we're not sure what they're connected to.

We are a global leader in marketing, communication, and business transformation. Though we don't market, communicate or transform.

The power of purposeful purpose.™

Purpose can't just be a pose. Or a pur.

We have won more awards than have even been awarded. Again.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Four things I learned from Zoom.

I'm back in New York City for a couple weeks. Once again, only two-hours from the sterile air of Connecticut's Gingham Coast, I am able to soak in the life and the energy of the City that Never Sweeps.™

New York during these Spring-like-days of high cerulean skies and perfect t-shirt weather is like Ted Williams. He returned to baseball after being a soldier twice--once from WWII and once from Korea. Each time, after a long layoff, he came back and resumed walloping the cover off the old horsehide.

My city seems as energized and ebullient as ever. Moving 20 percent too fast, 20 percent too rude, and 20 percent too impulsive. Which is just how I love it.

Soon, I think, we will start coming into various offices. Having in-person meetings. Having coffee with friends in the morning and drinks after work. Soon, that most abnormal of states, normalcy, will return.

I wonder if our 18-months of Solitary Zoom-finement will have taught us anything.

Here's what I've learned about communications during our virtual confinement and some lessons I think all of us in advertising can learn.

1. A lot of people are on mute. In Zoom, mute is a button. In real-life, it's a metaphor. 

99 percent of everything that's said isn't heard. 99 percent of everything that's said is self-referential lip-flapping. People talking to hear themselves talk, not because they have something to say. 

I think if we approach every bit of contact the way we should be approaching advertising--that NO ONE CARES--and we worked hard to make our sentences important, empathic and informative, we'd all be better off.That's one of the reasons meetings are so long. 

2. A lot of people will have their video off. Again, a button on Zoom. A metaphor in real-life. 

Most people in meetings, on the phone, wherever you run into them are doing other things. They're playing solitaire. Putting the finishing touches on an email. Reading a news item. Texting with a friend who chirps okey-dokey all too often. 

The truth is, in advertising and every day "intercourse," we have to earn attention. 

Susan Sarandon said in "Bull Durham," "A man will listen to anything if he thinks it's foreplay." Sure that's funny. But it's profound too. No matter how you communicate, no matter what you're saying, you have to make and keep a promise to the listener.

3. There are too many meetings and every one of them is too long. Approvals take the amount of time you have. Maybe this stems more from working as an independent--outside of the giant self-fulfilling prophecy known as a holding company agency. But If you have 21 days to review work, the organization will almost always take 22 days.

One of the great luxuries of having my own agency is I deal primarily with C-level clients. They see work. They say "what about?" We discuss. It's approved. The agency-standard of 17-rounds to approve a tweet isn't about improving work. It's about billing hours. And puffing out chests.

Bernbach said it best (no surprise, there) when he advised Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis. "Approve, disapprove but don't try to improve."

That ain't a bad way to live. And to be profitable. 

4. Don't say or do anything anyone else is saying and doing. Really. And don't use the word unprecedented. Try to be noticeable and memorable and different.


We're coming back from a huge upset to our system--to the way we live, the way we work and the way we fill our days.

We'd all be better off being a bit more mindful of the world we're coming back to. Thinking a little more clearly. Breathing a little deeper. Being a little more respectful of our time and others'

I can say all this shit.

I'm 109 years old and have almost enough money to not work with people I don't like, on brands I don't respect. I wish I learned all this 40 years ago.

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.