Monday, June 21, 2021

An open letter to new agency employees.

Dear New Employee,

Welcome. 

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.

Think.

Work.

Thank you.



Friday, June 18, 2021

My annual Father's Day post.

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

--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Transforming business transformation.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start here.

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

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

Start by telling the truth.

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

Start by treating people well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start by, in sum, telling the truth. 

Simply.

Clearly.

All the time.

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

And tell the truth.

You want business transformation?

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

Treat people like people.

--

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Dismal science meet dismal industry.

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

I suppose that's fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I single them out because I know them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's what I'm against.

That's what I'm barking about.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

My edge is I'm unemployed. 

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

So I can write about life without being castrated.




Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Flight of the Bumblebaum.


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

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

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

He backed off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure, it's not fair.

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

Account people know.

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

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

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

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

That used to be a given in capitalism. 

More work = more pay.

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

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

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

Work never ceases.

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

Working, then moving on.

I feel ya, dude.

I feel ya.

Monday, June 14, 2021

2,734,233 Titantium Pencils.

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel that way about advertising, too.  

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

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

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

"I get that."

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

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

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

But apparently, I am in a minority.

What's most winning is faking.

Then bragging about it,














Friday, June 11, 2021

Fish on Friday.


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

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

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

How's that for fish rotting from the head?

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

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








Thursday, June 10, 2021

Trade secrets.


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

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

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

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

As I do best, I answered without thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The point in all this is pretty simple.

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

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

Different and unexpected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's it.

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

Not scalable. And built to stay that way.™


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Word-flation. (AKA permission to suck granted.)

Back before I was an advertising copywriter I was a budding scholar of English literature and American history. Those are my true loves--surpassing my love for almost anything animate or inanimate. Wives, daughters and puppies notwithstanding.

This was back in the mid-1970s, and not unlike today, much of Western Civilization seemed to be burning. We weren't many years past deadly eruptions in major cities. We weren't far past Nixon's subversion of the Constitution and promotion of the president as monarch. We weren't past from Vietnam, Kent State and murder in the streets.

At the time, the city closest to my still-beating but essentially non-existent heart was dying--and the borough closest to that dead pump of mine was leading the way. In fewer than ten years, the Bronx saw its population plummet 20%, from 1.47 million people to 1.16 million people. Driving through the benighted borough which had been destroyed by Robert Moses' Cross Bronx Expressway, was driving through violence--anarchy. Apartment buildings were burnt out, their copper pipes stolen for scrap by addicts. A flat tire could mean death; the streets were filled with desperate people who would kill for money and the drugs they bought.

I can't find the ads now, but the Traveler's Life Insurance Company account at the time was being handled by the ad agency Carl Ally. They were creating ads that talked about the problems of the real world--with real-world language--with facts. I remember one ad in particular--which I can't find--read like a well-written article on the subject of arson. I was an academic at the time, but I read that ad and said to myself--that's the way writing should be. It's based on facts, not adjectives.

[As an aside, I have the eleven-pound--the weight, not the monetary unit--book Ally & Gargano, edited by Amil Gargano, that has many of the Travelers ads in it. Alas, it is in my New York apartment, not here in Connecticut, as I write this on a foggy Saturday morning.]



Facts, not adjectives became my beacon as a writer. Even this storyboard--not one of Carl Ally's finest--speaks to that precept. It's not one of the ads I can't find (how's that for a tautology?) but it is steeped in realism and evidence. That's how communication should be when it works its best. 

Good communication hurts sometimes. It's loud. Abrasive. Shocking. It has a voice and a point of view. It works to get noticed, to be believed. 

It doesn't rely on -ers and -ests. It proves with data and details what they're trying to communicate.

Even politics would be better off if we took some moments, as viewers--not sheep--and we asked for facts. I am a lefty teetering on the brink of Socialism. But if some merkin-haired politician said, "I am going to make America livable again by spending $1 trillion of Americans' dollars on the American people," I might have said "ok." If that tangerine-skinned phonus said, "$100 billion on repairing roads and bridges. $300 billion on universal health-care. $300 billion on improving education, both k-12 and college and $300 billion on building a green infrastructure," I'd have been ok.

If that same dwarf-handed human sump-pump gave periodic reports on the spending which included progress and set-backs
--again backed by data, I might now be comparing him to FDR instead of engaging in ad hominem attacks.

So much of the advertising we see is devoid of everything except emptiness. Today when we have more people than ever whose specific job it is to find out interesting details, we wind up  with cranial backwash like this:

We use meaningless words to describe expensive cars, like incredible. An unbelievable word that literally means unbelievable. 

Ready for the incredible.
A long way from talking about the features of the car.

We also walk around, all of us, in a world where we concede that everything we buy, watch, use, vote for and fuck is generic. There is no point of differentiation. Everything is word-flated. Awesome, brilliant and genius. 

Pyramids were awesome. 

Feynman was brilliant.

And Van Gogh was a genius.

Don't apply those words to ads.

Just don't.

I suppose I could get macro on all this and say the economics of holding company math eliminates the time needed to find out details that are interesting. So we ratiocinate, and hire legions of people to be Chief Rationcination Officers, who tell us that people can't read and nothing matters.

I'll go to my own personal crematory not believing that shit. I want to know where things are made, how they're made, what they're made of. The same with people I work with and for. I can't believe I'm the last person who feels this way.

And I can't believe something like the ad below wouldn't work today. There are about 100 words in the ad. Someone's convinced the world that 30 seconds of information is too much to contend with.

For something that probably costs two months of take-home pay.

30-seconds is too much.

Incredible.







Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Classic ads, 2021-style

 


Thanks to Dave Dye, progenitor of the Stuff from the Loft blog (davedye.com) for his help in making the shitty parodies above and below look better than the real thing.





Monday, June 7, 2021

Coffee with a rising star.

As I do so often, as I am blessed to do so often, I had a Zooffee™, a Zoom + Coffee, with a rising star in the industry. This particular young lady grew up about six blocks from me in Manhattan and was Hebrew school friends with my younger daughter, Hannah. (Call that Six Degrees of Not Eating Bacon.)

I became reacquainted with Sara when she was interning from Miami Ad School at Ogilvy. Shortly thereafter, Sara relocated to San Francisco and is now back in the City. For about the past 15 months or so, she's been a copywriter at Droga5. We've kept in touch in a desultory manner--sharing the occasional note, wave, spot or joke.

I had no expectations from this meeting. Other than I think it's important for us old guys to talk to young people. To hear what they're thinking, what scares them, what they feel they're getting or not getting at wherever they're working. And how they're dealing with all the many issues of building a career in an industry that is beginning to resemble a tapped-out coal seam. It would probably be good for the big machers in the industry to have friendships like these. It might teach them something. Maybe empathy.

However, being New Yorkers, before we talked advertising, we talked about real estate. Living in Manhattan is a little like living on a Monopoly board. You're almost always looking to move to a better property.

Sara was gushing over a great apartment she and her husband bought at Covid panic-prices. Via Zoom I could see the leafy balcony that ran along the entire length of her coop.

I replied that I got a Covid-bargain up here in Connecticut as well. We escaped New York before the rush, found an eddy of a town and put a bid in on waterfront property while half of America was still calling a virus that as of yesterday has killed over 600,000 Americans (more than the number of people who live in Milwaukee or Baltimore) "little more than a cold."

"The guy who sold us the place," I said, "really fucked up. He had crammed twice as much furniture into the house as it could hold, had broken vertical blinds from 1977 on the windows, and it was hot as Hades when we saw the place."

Sara replied, "he didn't stage it."

"That's funny," I said. "And it probably cost him a couple hundred thousand."

The conversation then turned to advertising. Working in a office while never going to an office. And presenting to clients over Zoom.

As I do so often, I made a leap.

"I think most agency creatives do a lousy job 'staging' their work. My wife and I are thinking of building an addition to this house. Before we spend the money, we brought in a realtor--one of those savvy ones who calls a run-down hovel 'cozy.' We wanted her to look at the plans for our addition through a buyer's eyes. 'Is it worth the money,' we asked. In other words, 'will it show well?'"

"Yes," Sara said. "Creatives usually talk about why the work is great from their point of view--that it's cool. That they're using this director, and so on."

"Back when I was at Ogilvy the first time," I replied, "I had written about a dozen spots. Brand spots and direct-response television spots for IBM.

"At the time, the rap against Ogilvy was that we couldn't sell anything. We did nice image spots. But couldn't 'get the phone to ring.' It's not easy on a high-ticket price brand like IBM.

"When I presented, I threw out the meeting agenda. I said to the client, we always present the brand spots first. But you need to sell things. So I'm showing you the 'phone number' spots first."

You could have knocked my client over with a feather. That "staging" showed her I was thinking of her. Her business. Her ass in a sling. Not my reel, reputation or preciousness.

All 12 spots were sold--I'm not exaggerating--before I even read a single script.

I read somewhere that 80 million photos are uploaded on Instagram every day. That's about one-thousand pictures a second. To my eyes, it seems like 700 of that thousand per second are of people's dinner. And the photo is staged--perseverated over. The sprig of whatever is just so. So's the lemon peel in the highball glass. We stage the shit out of stuff all the time.

But when it comes to our own work, we forget. 

Sure we do decks.

But we don't make sure they're short, sharp, funny, memorable. And most important that they're about solving the client's problems. Most clients, I've found, care very little about this director or that director. They want a spot that works--that breaks through and informs.

As an industry we've forgotten that we're "agents." We're not supposed to be in this for our aggrandizement and fame. We're in it to create that for our clients. We're supposed to put their brands in the spotlight. Not ours.

You ought to remember that next time you're showing things to a client:

All the world's a stage.