Friday, July 30, 2021


For whatever reason, in advertising, I've hardly ever been allowed to be funny.

Maybe because I could always explain--nicely--the difference between a home owners' loan and a home-equity line-of-credit, or between machine learning and deep learning, or even why a model of passenger airplane kept falling from the sky. Whatever the reason, I've been relegated to the "elbow grease" sorts of assignments that don't get you a seat at Cannes or even the cool-kids' table.

That said (for a depressive) I'm an irrepressibly funny guy. I just excel at doing the full-page ad after the oil-spill. Not the one where the dad runs out of gas on the way to pick up his moppet of precociousness from second-grade. Oh! The hi-jinx that ensue.

When I worked in an office and even today, I try to layer my communications with emotions and moods that are appropriate and help them get remembered and get a response.

For the last 90 minutes I've had to fill out about 37 different forms all to earn a few days' gruel at a holding company agency.

I don't usually work for agencies anymore--my business is going gangbusters going direct to CEO. But I want to keep a toe in the game. One) to support friends who ask for help. And two) to make sure my standards are equal to--if not better than--what my highly-capitalized, yet precarious, competitors are offering.

I finally got through this raft of forms and decided to make myself smile. I do that on the assumption (perhaps grandiose) that if something makes me smile, it may hand others a laugh as well.

So in addition to returning an NDA, a CDA, a PDA, a NYPD, and a LSMFT, I sent this back with my passel of technocratic forms. Just to see if anyone was watching. And because I thought with all the ID they asked for, why not?

I also sent this, for a smile. Because, how could anyone resist this punim.

It's also why, when I send a note or write a bit of copy, I say "I'll have it in 29 minutes." While everyone else says "I'll have it in 30." 

Or in a piece of copy, rather than saying "48-hour delivery," I'll write "delivery in about 47 hours and 27 minutes."

My point here is simple.

There are expected ways to do things. That's the way most things are done. Boring. Ugly. Un-thinking. Completely what you've always gotten.

And then there are things that are different.

They make you think. Smile. Remember. Laugh.

Like this commercial, below.

It gets noticed.


It makes you smile.

Remember smiling?

It's really your choice.

Thursday, July 29, 2021


My ever-loving and I did something unusual yesterday morning. We had an actual conversation. You may think I'm being cynical about that, but you wait and see how euphonious you're doing after 37 years of marriage.

What we talked about was memory. Not memories. Not the time I changed a diaper on the lawn of Pacific Palisades' City Hall. Not the time we saw a hammerhead shark while scuba diving. Not the time Bob from Sesame Street gave each of my girls a kiss. No, we talked about memory. Or cap M, Memory.

Apparently, some years ago I said to my wife that a good writer has to have a good memory.

She brought it up this morning, though I had forgotten I said it.

Despite that, I elaborated. Something to do with a surfeit of Y chromosomes.

"I don't mean the dates of the Boer War type of memory, or that in the early 20th Century, three American presidents in a row had first names that started with Ws. I mean a different kind of memory."

I took her rolling her eyes as an invitation to continue.Something to do with a surfeit of Y chromosomes.

"What I mean is that sometimes writing is a bit like making a quilt or putting together a scrapbook or a bird building a nest. You can't get all the materials at a central depot and start hammering away. You pick up little shards and shreds here and there and you add to it as you build.

"Those bits and pieces might be out of sequence. They might not be chronologically precise. They might be tinged with a bit of fiction or even make-believe. But the important thing is they're constructed from reality--from things that happened one time or another. You store them until you need them."

It was time for me to stop my lecture and get on with some of my morning chores. Yesterday that included taking my 1966 Simca 1500 175 miles south to Toms River to see Lothar, the world's best Simca repairperson. Lothar had sent me a hand-written postcard at the start of July telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I was overdue for my 600,000-mile tune-up and perhaps I did not deserve him as my mechanic if I were not up to treating the Simca as automotive royalty.

As I threw the Simca into 2nd gear (I lost gear one somewhere on I95 around Milford) I remembered example one. Something real that I will someday include in a story or a piece of copy or a conversation.

I was working with a noted English designer. It was around 6PM my time, so 11PM his time and it was time for us to get off the phone.

He said, "I have to put my three daughters to bed. You have two girls. What are their names."

"Sarah and Hannah."

"I named mine after typefaces."


"Yes, I have Perpetua, Clarendon and Helvetica." With that, he hung up the phone.

The other memory also came to me in a phone call. A young friend and I were talking about an agency we had both fled. It wasn't long before our conversation began to skulk around and turn a trifle feline. In fact, it positively meowed.

I mentioned an almost universally despised C-level executive. You know the type. Someone hated by everyone below her and busy kissing the keister of everyone above her. 

My friend said, "You know what [eminence grise] said about her?"

I waited.

"She's nothing but nail polish."

I've been "a creative" for virtually my entire life. And I never much liked the moniker.

Much of my so-called creativity comes from hearing things and seeing things and storing things that others might not hear, see and store. I hardly "create" anything. Mostly, as I said above, I pull-together a good patchwork and people call it creative.

Likewise, our industry-obsession with "finding insights" falls into this camp. Much of insight-alchemy-bushwa really comes from reading annual reports, or the Wall Street Journal, or listening to CEO keynotes, or recalling something from history. A lot of it comes from listening to your mind's subconscious meanderings while you're walking the dog, taking a shower or deep into REM. Not the rock band.

Many decades ago, the great sage Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by watching." 

Yogi almost always hit the hammer on the nail.

He might also have said, "you can hear a lot by listening."


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Writing. The hard way.

About five years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being in a pre-pro with the fearsome director, Joe Pytka, who decided he liked me mostly because I refused to be intimidated by him. 

There are a lot of Pytkas in the world. They try to scare the crap out of you. If you let them, you're little more than a month-old Vienna sausage.

Joe reminded me somewhat of a right-handed pitcher I faced in the Mexican Baseball League named Rene Chavez. Chevez was only 5'6" and 170 lbs. but he lasted 12 years in the league because he owned the inside precincts of the plate.

Chavez was a decade older than I, and in 1975 when he had his best season, he pitched for the Dorados de Chihuahua. That year, he went 18 wins against just 10 losses and had an ERA of only 2.35. Those numbers in a hitters' league.

Chavez knew how to take the measure of a man.  In my case he took the measure of a boy (I was 17). He saw me as someone who hated the ball in on my fists. A lot of tall guys are like that. We get our power not from our wrists but from our long arms and wide shoulders.

Chavez threw one outside to me, a pitch as fat as an elephant's ass and I lunged but stopped myself from fishing for it. Having set me up outside, now he came inside. Pitch two came in around my front elbow and hard--I could hear the horsehide burning through the sultry air. 

I held off and was up 2 and 0. His next pitch also came inside--about halfway between me and the black of the plate. But by that time I had already had enough of Chavez. I turned my wing into the pitch and got nicked on the meaty part of my forearm. They sent me to first for that maneuver.

That afternoon, I learned something about myself from Chavez.

No matter how good you are--I'm not going to concede anything to you. Pitch me inside all you want. I don't care, I'll let one hit me--I'll take a dozen on the chin. Ten or twelve years and you're over the pain.

I took the same posture with Pytka that I did with Chavez. You can try to cow me, you can tower over me, but I'll outlast you. I'll find a way to get on regardless of the heat you're throwing.

Pytka grabbed me when I walked into the pre-pro. 

"Sit here," he ordered. The rest of the assemblage--nominally my colleague situated themselves as far away from Darth Vader as possible.  

"Did you write this shit?"

"Who else?" I stammered.

The large, scary man grabbed my Mac away from me with more than a little force. At the time this picture below was my screen saver.

"What's this," he barked.

"A reminder," I purred.

He looked at my screen saver and smiled. He looked at me, and I smiled. Then I said something like,

"I'm no Edward DeVere," I said, sotto voce. 

I quoted Malcolm Cowley. "I work at the writer's trade."

After that, he left me alone. He'd actually compliment me now and again.


Writing a blog every day is no easy job.

I'm not complaining--because writing, and writing every day is something I choose to do. It's my thing. It's my choice.

Nevertheless, when you write every day, you have to constantly be on the lookout for ideas. Because of my prodigious memory, I haven't taken to walking around with a steno-pad to write things down. I don't dictate ideas into my phone. I usually hit the keys before what I have vanishes. Or as Edwin Dowson wrote so long ago,

Out of a misty dream 
Our path emerges for a while, 
then closes.

I usually get to things before the emergent path closes.

This morning, nervous that I had nothing written for tomorrow, I sat at my computer and thought. 

I break down writing into three parts.

1. Thinking.

2. Typing.

3. Rewriting.

I thought of an idea.

Now, I did what I do with ideas. 

I tried to kill it. Had I seen it before? Was it dumb? Would it offend anyone? Was it too obscure--even for me.

No! It seemed to pass all those tests and more.

My wife came downstairs just then so we could go out for our morning walk along the sea. We walk a mile down to a dog beach with Whiskey, let her swim after her duck decoy, then walk her home. Then my wife and I do a couple miles more. We have more stamina these days than our nine-year-old pup.

There are many fine ways to start a day. None finer than seeing your happy golden retriever fetch her fake duck.

"I want to write tomorrow's blog," I said to my wife. I told her the idea.

"That's funny," she answered. "But I'm starting at nine today and need to be back."

"Me too," I answered. "But that's ok. An idea like this practically writes itself."

Four hours later, I had wrapped up a morning of calls, a week of writing and a month's worth of anxieties. It was time to write tomorrow's post.

I opened the blank doc I had opened first thing in the morning. There wasn't a single letter typed. Much less a sentence or a synopsis.

There was nothing.

And I couldn't remember a thing.

That copy that wrote itself? 

No, that's me.

It will have to do.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

AI copywriting. It works!

There was a short item making the rounds through my social media circles this weekend about the increasing sophistication of AI. With natural language understanding and a better and better grasp of context, idiom and nuance, eventually, the article said, asses like myself would be replaced by super-fast writing machines that can do the job in 1/100th of the time for 1/1000 of the cost of this old Yonkers Jew.

I've been down the road before and have heard all kinds of claims about this throughout my life. I've always taken them with more than a soupcon of salt because I've never seen any technology fulfill virtually any of the claims they claim. As I've so often said, if you're booking a flight, apps and software are great until there's a snowstorm or thunder and you need a person to rebook you. Or you need a person just to know that there's empathy somewhere in the world.

What's more, as good as AI can get, my brilliant younger daughter sent me this on Sunday. It was probably written by a human but you should get the point. It's hard for anyone or anything to look at all the idiosyncrasies of the English language and to write things that are precise and un-misunderstandable.

Last week I tried to make an appointment online with my local car dealer. The process sucked--I don't know exactly what I need done, I just know I need a lot of it. And with my 1966 Simca 1500 approaching 600,000 kilometers on the odometer, I'm in no mood to wait around while they adjust the maximal minimizer and cohere to vacuum compressors. Yet, online, there was nowhere to ask for a loaner. 

About a century ago, Jean Renoir, perhaps the greatest film-director who ever lived (and the son of the great painter Auguste Renoir) said "loitering is the foundation of all great civilization." 

When the Simca repair shop picked up the phone, I explained my situation to him. Simply, I need a loaner.

"No problem, sir," he said, "I'll arrange one for you."

"I'd like a BMW Z8," I said.

"Oh, we're out of that," he answered. "I've reserved a 2022, M8 convertible with 677-horsepower for you."

"Great," I said. "I'll seeya Wednesday."

A lot of hackneyed marketers talk about "surprise and delight." That's their way of doing something unexpected and special for someone.

What they fail to realize is that sometimes a fair amount of surprise and delight can come simply from another human being sharing a joke with you. Yes, doing her job well. But adding to it with a bit of empathy and humor.

As Jean Renoir said that all civilization is based on loitering, I would wager that a lot of customer lifestyle management (or whatever the technocrats are calling it this week) depends of efficiency, listening, warmth, empathy and humor. Yes, humor.

I worked with IBM Watson for nearly five years and had much to do with its launch and Watson's winning on-air personality. 

But there's this.

AI can't kibbitz.

AI can't bring a stray bit of information into a "conversation."

AI can't intrigue and incite curiosity.

When I was 24, I worked in the advertising department of the great Bloomingdale's department store. The ad department was run by the brilliant and irrepressible John C. Jay and my boss, Chris Rockmore, was equally brilliant and irrepressible.

The head of the carpet department briefed me on an ad I was to write on expensive Kilims, Persians, Ikat, Bokhara and Chobi Ziegler rugs. The carpet buyer talked to me about where he found the rugs and the routes he traveled to buy them.

It was expected I would write something like "Save 20% to 40% on Exclusive Carpets and Floor Coverings."

Instead I remembered an octad I had read from Kipling some years earlier. My copy started with this:

Ship me somewheres east of Suez,
where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments
an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin',
an' it's there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, 
looking lazy at the sea;

I don't know how many carpets my ad sold--more or less than usual. I don't know how many people actually read the ad.

But I do know, if anyone did, they got something they wouldn't have gotten from AI copywriting.

They got a little human.

A little poetry.

And maybe a little smile.


Not artificial.

Maybe all CRM relies, not on AI, but on being human.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Vulgarians through the gate.

Wise people know, or wise people who know me know, that anything they say or write to me at any time is grist for my blog. 

I've written in this space virtually every working day for 14 years and I don't have a "show-runner" to help me along with structure. I also don't have a content strategist, a writers' room or a media calendar to guide me.

I have something way more useful than any of those roles.

I have life.

Every-so-often, I get a comment on LinkedIn or from somewhere that says, "I really love your content." It's a compliment, I suppose, but one I don't really understand. Mostly because I don't understand the word content.

What I do is observe, write, comment, kibbitz about life. As old men like myself have been doing since our species--roughly speaking--came down from trees and started walking on our hind legs. If you asked me I would say, "I write something every day." Or "I write shit." I would never say, "I create content." After all, what am I filling up? What am I the contents of?

Last week, I got an IM from a friend of mine. I've known her off and on for almost 30 years, but mostly off. In all those years I believe we've had exactly one cup of coffee. 

We're like a lot of writers, I suppose, we're way more comfortable behind a keyboard than across a formica table. That's how we share thoughts, in any regard. It seems to be working, because somehow I feel--however tangentially--some connection to this young woman's soul.

I'll call her Beatrice, as a way of shielding internet sleuths who try to abrogate the anonymity I often strive for. Beatrice told me a story about a young person from the agency at which she works, who has decided to get another job and move on.

Here's what Beatrice sent to me. I'm quoting it here because she's a damned good writer--even extemporaneously--and I could much more easily worserize her words than betterize them:

"It's vulgar to talk of received compliments, but allow me to be vulgar for a second, to make a point - yesterday, one of the designers from what used to be the design group sent a note of resignation (the 40th of the week) to which I replied with wishes of good luck.  

"She wrote back saying things so kind that actually, I'd be a total asshole to repeat... but at the end, she said something like, 'I've watched you from afar and you're my inspiration and mentor.'  

It made me cry.  And made me realize how much not only knowing how to do your job, but also how to behave, matters - and is seen and felt.  I'm a writer - she has nothing to learn from me - and yet, to think I affected her was meaningful - and made me feel valued in an environment where such generosity is in short supply...This is testament to the fact that young people need to learn from older people who can see things other than what happens at festivals in the South of France."

                           Mr. Preston Sturges on Vulgarity.

For a few decades now, we've heard the catch-phrase, "It takes a village." In other words, raising people takes a complex interplay of diverse opinions, behaviors, life experiences, background and more. It takes a village never referred to that aforementioned village in France.

Meanwhile, in a concerted quest to secure their excessive mammon (think camels through the eyes of needles) the oligopoly that is obeisant only to their offshore tax-havens and their stockholders, have denuded the village. They've wiped out whole sectors for being "non-digital," or for "hearkening back to the 80s" whatever that means.

They've forgotten the key word in all of life, the word that brings peace and amity among people--in groups large and small and even individual. That is: perspective. 

In fact, from my perspective, they've chosen cosmetic diversity--how people look--over actual diversity of thought and opinion. Over experience, approach and point of view. They've decided cast diversity--because that's easy--rather than deciding to live it because that's hard.

My friend Beatrice brings something to an agency, brings something to a "social organism" (which is what an agency is) that is incalculable. It goes beyond writing with euphony. It goes beyond reading a brief. It goes beyond all those Hallmark insipidies that make up the current, fairly fascist assessment tools provided by what we now call human resources. [In fact, they're hardly human and have no resources.]

Say what you will about the 1939 movie "Gone with the Wind." You can't really overlook the rewriting of evil and the inherent racism it portrays. But if you look at art as a time machine to a different era--not an endorsement of that era--you'll find bits of the movie that can still tell us things we need to think about.

I choose this passage for one simple reason. Agency management (an oxymoron) has thrown own what made agencies work--with both hands. They're throwing out "villageness," real mentors for spurious wokeness that may work on paper, but not in real life. And they're reaching out for something that will never make them happy--an unending money-machine where garbage in gets you golden eggs out.

Prester John. Lookit up.

In their Prester John search for profit, cash flow and margins, they've destroyed their own brands, same-ized their differentiators, and are now in the late-stages of a race to the bottom. They're cheap, low-cost, money-grubbers who are no longer of any importance to the clients they no longer serve.

It used to be the rule of thumb in the agency world that an agency's assets took an elevator down and left the building every night. The industry has forgotten it is people that make the industry. Not proprietary interlocking spheres that claim to unravel a process to success. Not data science. Not borderless creativity. Not some plutocrat who's never written an ad.

It's Beatrice.


Friday, July 23, 2021

Member has its privileges.

Dear Friends,

Let me start this quite simply.

I'm mortified.

Mortified that my trillionaire "handler" has decided to model his spaceship, Blue Orgasm, Blew Orgasm, or Orgasm Origin after me.

Yes, I'll admit.

I am a good-looking guy.


Very cute.

With a shiny dome, a nice helmet and a cute little smile. There was a time when I had an inside scoop on a lot of insides. And I've seen more than my share of $200 silk boxer shorts.

I made other penises eat their hearts out.

Because not only am I one very rich penis. 

I am very well endowed.

But to everything, there is a season. And there's a place for everything and everything in its place. So let's leave me where I belong. Not as some supernaturally-sized Anthony Wiener IRL dick pick.

I never wanted to be on a billion-dollar launching pad.

I never wanted a trip into any troposphere.

Outer space ain't my bag.

Inner space. That's where it's at.

So I'm sorry.

Sorry I made a spectpenile of myself. Sorry the whole world had to see me. Sorry the entire Eunuchverse had to see that bald fuck emerge from me wearing a ten-gallon all-hat-no-cowboy cowboy hat.


We're all compensating for something.

Some men have small cars with big engines. Some have giant pickup trucks with even gianter-tires. My boi needs a good psychotherapist like Jared Kushner needs skin-tone.

It's not me.

I'm fine.

It's him.

Sincerely yours,

Jeff's Pezos

(Jeff's Penis)

Portrait of the trillionaire as a young penis.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

A short course in Corvée.

For many decades, I was a competitive athlete. I enjoyed the challenge of having my ass-kicked and trying to kick the ass of others. That dynamic, I ass-kick therefore I am, comes to us from our evolutionary residue. You'll find it in almost all our predecessors, most notably giant apes who still kick the shit out of other giant apes so they can have more food and more sex. It's been that way on earth for almost 5,000,000 years. It ain't likely to be HR'd out of us any time soon.

Though I have closed my Apple Watch rings for nearly 600 days in a row, I no longer compete athletically. I challenge myself in different ways now. I read heavy-duty books from university presses that sometimes make my ears bleed. Even so, they help me understand the world--at least as much as anyone can fathom this cockeyed caravan of charlatans, mountebanks and quacks.

The other day, I read this three-year-old article above from the Economist and I promptly downloaded this book it was based on, below. 

I must say, I've had a fairly good education in economics but Schiedel demands at least one advanced degree in the dismal science--not just Dr. Beck's Macro and Micro and Dr. Sola's Introduction to Labor. I know more about Barbara Eden's Jeannie than the Gini Coefficient so I elide the deep-dish equations in the book and try to zero in on some of the broader concepts.

Reading on Monday night, I came across a feudal French economic concept that helped explain a lot to me. It was something I had noticed before--and remarked upon--but never really had a name for.

It's the concept of Corvée. 

If you have any memory cells left, try to etch the word somewhere in what's left of your brain, after a lifetime of watching TV and drinking sugared soft-drinks. 

I'll admit my leanings run more than a little red, but I never really accepted the idea that I should work 60 hours a week and get paid for only 40. I never really accepted the idea that I work for free so a do-nothing plutocrat can "earn" $22 million per annum for the rest of his life and his children's lives.

That's Corvée, ladies and germs.

Of course, I am playing a bit fast and loose with the definition. Corvée in advertising isn't imposed by the State or the government. It's imposed by the modern replicant: the multi-national corporation. 

Some decades ago, that corporation told you you were an executive--that you got paid annually rather than hourly and you got some executive benefits as well, an office, an expense account, an assistant to assist you, and the occasional bonus. Once I had a card that let me take a black car places in case I needed to and a couch in my office and a mini-fridge. That was when I was in my 30s. In exchange for those modest appurtenances, you were ordered to work a certain number of unpaid hours.

Today, all executive appurtenances have all but disappeared. You sit out in the open like a pig in a sty. It takes you 12-weeks of paperwork to get a $12 cab reimbursement. And you often have to advance the company thousands of dollars for the privilege of paying for your own travel and sitting in a middle-seat while flying out to endless fluorescent meetings.

You're an executive in that you have to work extra hours. But the privileges of your "executiveness" have evaporated. Meanwhile the extra hours you have to work have grown larger and longer.

No one wants you to think about stuff like this. How standards of living have fallen over the last half-century and job security has disappeared like a Trump ethics committee. BTW, in a related note, life expectancy has declined more this year than any time in the last 75 years.

You get it, right? 


PS.  In December, I did work--as a favor--for a London agency held by Omnicom. My bill has been rejected 20 times because I haven't provided the information in the way they want me to, a way they change with every subsequent email. That's Corvée as well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Call to bullshit.

Way back in 1995, I got sentenced to work for a creative director who didn't have a creative bone in her body. If she ate a dozen whole chickens, bones and all, she still wouldn't have had one that was creative.

What she did have is a thorough understanding of what you're supposed to do to create a successful direct response commercial. You have to show the phone number here. Repeat it here. Have it on the screen here. And close with the scintillating imperative, "Hurry! Supplies are limited," or some such bushwa.

She reminded me of those charlatans who can recite the appropriated Christian bible chapter and verse but who lack in their souls even the smallest shred of human kindness, decency or empathy. The ones who have ignored "Love thy neighbor," while banging on a drum that says "There's one true god. And I hate you for not believing in mine."

You know. You deal with them all the time.

Orthodoxy over common-sense. Dogma over decency.

Late one night, I was showing this creative director a cut. 

"You have to have a call to action here." She ordered.

I had never heard the phrase call to action before and admitted it.

"It's a sentence to get people to buy, or call," she lectured. 

I countered, "Shouldn't the whole spot be about getting people to call or buy? Why do I need an appendage in the form of a shout to get people to do what I believe is good for them."

"It's the way we do it when we do direct."

"I think," I said, "FedEx's 'Fast Talking Man,' is probably the greatest direct response commercial ever. You know exactly what you're supposed to do and exactly why you're supposed to do it."

She looked at me like I had two heads, scowled and eventually fired me. I got the rule book, I suppose, I just didn't accept the rules.

Somehow in this topsy-turvy Macbethean Era we live in (or should I say Van Gogh-ean Earless) we accept as normal dogma that makes no sense and is usually contradictory to some other dogma we said just moments earlier.

For instance, we're likely to say, "the consumer is in control." Or that "people don't trust/listen/respond to advertising." But in the next breath, we'll also say, "It needs a call to action," as if our commercials, digital ads and what not are the Catskills leader in a cosmic Simon says game, and if he says, "Learn more," "Act now," or "Download," we'll do it because we are tractable and mindless dishrags waited to be shaped into the crevices of a pan my wife has just burnt the lasagne in.

If you go into an auto dealership or a deli, there's no sign next to to the Malibu or the Pastrami that says, "see your salesperson for details. Click here."

After roughly 70,000 years of human trade and commerce, we usually know how to consummate a deal.

The bigger part, of course, is what the :28 of the ad is meant to do, not the :02 where you're forced to say "Hurry in" in. If the ad doesn't give the viewer a reason to hurry in, being yelled at to hurry in will likely impel the viewer to hurry away.

I'm Jewish.

About 94% of the meals I eat with family are served by someone smiling who places a plate of food in front of me followed by the word "Eat." Or "Ess, mine kindelach."

I eat.

Not because I'm being told to but because I like kasha varnishkes.

Eat isn't really a call to action. It doesn't call me to action. It's a vestigal element like the tails we no longer have, or the intelligence.

If someone placed stuffed derma in front of me and said "Eat," I wouldn't. Because I don't like stuffed derma.

It ain't the call to action that's important.

It's what you're serving.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

This is what you're up against.

In his great essay, "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell lays out "Six Rules for Writing." More than any other advice, I hand out Orwell. 

He's a little like a sock in the jaw. But most writing needs a sock in the jaw. I've been telling people about this essay for three decades now. In that time, maybe five people have actually read it. No one, I believe, has pdf'd it and saved it on their desktop. I don't really understand why. 

I've told whole agencies and whole creative departments to read it. I routinely pass it out to clients who ask me to help their in-house agencies. I still don't think anyone's read the essay. TL/DR. That stands for, I believe, terminally lazy, dumbness remains.

Orwell's sixth rule is the one I'm going to start with today. It says, "Break any of these rules (the previous five) sooner than say anything outright barbarous."

So many of the ads I see today are outright barbarous. Ugly looking, ugly sounding and ugly lying. Ugly to the point where they actually anger me. And make me hate the brands who besiege us with these ads. (I'm not sure clients or agencies understand this is how their ads are evaluated. People don't sit at home, see an ad and remark how it followed the brief. They don't notice, really, anything. Except once in a while something makes them smile. Much more often, when they notice at all, it's something that irks them.)

I have every privacy apparatus known to humankind on my Mac. I have IP-scramblers on my home network because 1.) they're inexpensive and 2.) I don't want to be followed around by brands like I'm a rare leopard being tracked by a great white hunter. Not only do I employ the ad-blocking equivalent of Hitler's Atlantic Wall, I use a special internet browser that is also configured to not turn me into commerce. Even when searching I avoid Google and use a privacy-attuned search-engine.

Nevertheless, like toxic effluvia leaking through supposedly hermetically sealed lead-lined crypts, ads still get through my defenses. As Neil Young sang so many years ago, "Rust Never Sleeps." Neither do surveillance capitalists.

Fortunately, to the right of these offending ads on LinkedIn, there are usually three tiny dots. Click on them and they allow you to "report" ads. And I often do.

What I wonder is this: How many creatives, how many account people, how many agencies and how many clients even know these three tiny dots exist?  Because to my mind, like a cowboy in the Old West who always carried two six-shooters, most people know they're armed with these defenses. Those three dots lead to this menu.

Click on the grey flag, and you get to a screen that gives you these options:

I almost always click on one of these options. My rationale for choosing #1, "Scam, phishing or malware," is that the ads I'm "served," are usually so rife with hype and overpromise--or built on such false premises, that I believe I'm being scammed. 

Sometimes I choose #3 or #4. Especially if the ad is from a petrochemical company promoting its love for the environment and its efforts to go carbon-neutral by 2080. "Terrorism," or "violence." Environmental despoiling is eco-terrorism and violence against our planet. So I feel justified in my judgment.

Once in a while I choose #5, "hate speech." Because, like Orwell, I think ugly language, treating people as if they're numbskulls is hateful. I feel fully justified in picking this option.

I don't have any data on:

1. If my personal efforts have any effect on the ads I see or the advertisers and agencies involved.

2. How many people take the time, or even know that they can "thumbs down" dumbness and lies.

3. If LinkedIn publishes data on how many people are rejecting their ads.

But my point is larger. I hope.

Semiotically, every viewer is looking at every communication--even the falsehood-choked PR-derived bullshit from corporate communications and "best-place-to-work" income-generating contests, through this lens. 

When I see an ad like the one below, I report it in my head. Most often, it's so full of lies, half-truths, deceptions and bushwa that a large portion of my corpuscles grow dyspeptic.

A lot of chest-beating.
But nothing about a 40% YOY revenue loss, hiring Sackler-opioid-enabling consultancy McKinsey to shepherd its own "brand transformation,"
or fewer than 2% of its employees being over 60 in contrast to 22% of the
world's population being over 60.

As I've written many times before, I'm a bit of a Manichean. I believe as David Ogilvy did that "the consumer is not a moron." Most brands and agencies behave otherwise. And most people know it. Light or dark, that's how I see things.

So whether they tell you or not, people are looking at your messages much more fiercely than they pretend they do in focus groups. Think "black site" torture moderator or Upper East Side therapist.

It only takes a second to lose someone forever. 

I used to think about the American auto industry. How its decades of making cars that sucked and treating customers like shit cost them literally generations of Americans.

Since about ten years ago, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Pontiac, Mercury, Hummer and Saab have all gone belly up. They lost their customers forever.

Because they lied.

Or half-truthed.

Or were unvarying in their prevarication.

I think most companies--and agencies--are following that pattern.

But, they'll counter, we're award-winning.

I'll counter, you lie.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Eye, meet ball.

When I was a boy, just about the first words of advice I ever received from my father outside of "stay away from your mother when she's drinking," and "stay away from your mother when she's not drinking," were these: "Keep your eye on the ball."

That's good advice when you're playing ball--whether you're at bat or in the field or even warming the bench. The game, after all, revolves around the ball. Seeing what it's doing, where it's coming from, how it's being thrown or hit, just makes sense.

Keeping your eye on the ball makes sense as a larger metaphor for life, too. Keep your energy focused on what's central to your overall aim. Try to look past life's little ups and downs and focus on the larger picture.

Over the past three or four weeks in the ad business--no matter what sphere of the ad business you're in--there's been a Tsunami of Self-Serving statements, a monsoon of me, a hurricane of hooray.

Every agency worth its filthy carpet tiles are showing off generally un-run work that's won awards at the "pay-for-play" Cannes festival. In another week, or another month, we'll get another round of this meteorological pomposity generated by some other awards. "We've won best place to work in the three-copier machine category of agencies west of 11th Avenue and east of 12th." Or "our cafeteria's been ptomaine-free for nine days running!"

As more and more agencies chase this spurious self-aggrandizement, it seems they are chasing awards right down the glistening drainpipe into if not oblivion then certainly irrelevance.

Just now I read an article that would leave me, were I a Holding Company potentate or merely an agency Moghul looking for a room on a high-floor with a narrow-ledge outside the windows and a hard concrete pavement below with no pigeons to break my fall. You can read the entire article here. Except you probably can't. Because virtually no one in the benighted advertising industry actually pays for or reads the world's most important business journalism, which is found in "The Wall Street Journal." 

We're too busy trying to influence culture, whatever that means, to understand what's actually going on in our world.

Here's the bit, were I an executive that would have me thinking of taking the big Nestea plunge into Tartarus.

"Marketing budgets have fallen to 6.4% of companies’ revenue this year from 11% last year, according to the annual CMO Spend Survey by research firm Gartner Inc.

The new level is the lowest since the survey began in 2012 and the first time it has dipped below 10%, Gartner said."

So those CEOs who can Read might be Wrending their garments--not to Bollore you, but it's a Sadoun-night massacre. Or the grapes of Roth.

During one of the hottest economies of my lifetime, marketing budgets have dropped from 11 percent of company revenue to 6.4 percent. That's a 41 percent drop, boys and boys, in marketing budgets as a percent of revenue. That's a CEOtastrophe.

A 41 percent drop and you're trumpeting vainglorious awards. Mostly for ads that weren't paid for by clients and that regular people never saw.

The Wall Street Journal report continues, quoting Gartner's co-chief of research, Ewan McIntyre. "Every sector wound up cutting marketing in comparison with revenue. Budgets were cut for brands whether or not they had a positive or negative impact from Covid,” Mr. McIntyre said.

And while WPP-owned GroupM is forecasting a 19% rise in global ad revenue, "some of that increase is being fueled by new small businesses launched during the pandemic, many of them digital-only and investing heavily in online advertising."

Of course, forecasts aren't usually worth the pixels they're printed on. Ad spend as percentage of company revenue could bounce back like a fat man's ass in a Speedo.


Little one-person GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company has grown 300% this year. That's comparing 50-weeks of 2020 to 29 weeks of 2021. That's not because I'm putting my best people on the phoney-baloney circuit. I'm not trying to create ads that will change capitalism itself into a kinder, gentler guillotine. Sure, I'd like to reverse the scourge of ocean plastic, child-trafficking and climate denigration. I'd like to be not only carbon-neutral, many times I actually wish I were carbon-free. But my job is to sell things for clients. Sell things.

It's simple, really.

I'm growing like a teenage boy on prom night because I'm helping my clients grow.

I'm helping them by keeping my eye on the ball.