Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Facts and ignoring facts.

It seems to me that there are similarities between people ingesting horse medicine to shield themselves from Covid and the behaviors of many of us in advertising.

My wife's cousin and his wife are both doctors in LA. They've been on the frontlines of fighting the Covid crisis since around March, 2020. Now they're on the frontlines of fighting what I'll call the "Stupidity Crisis."

I'll call it the Stupidity Crisis because, in fact, we no longer have a Covid Crisis. We got that malady under control when, in record time, safe and effective vaccines were developed, tested and distributed. 

For the vast majority of people--above 90 percent--if you take the vaccine, you won't get sick. If you get sick, it ain't Covid, it's your embrace of stupidity.

Despite those vaccines, the US is once again averaging about 150,000 cases and 1,300 deaths a day. Virtually all of those cases and deaths are among the unvaccinated. In short, we've figured out how to (for now) lick the disease. But a more virulent ailment, stupidity, still rages. It's stupid not to get vaccinated but people don't want to believe, for whatever reason, that vaccination is safe and effective. 

They're denialists. And stupidists.

A similar stupidity epidemic rages in our industry. 

When all the nonsense about this or that trend of the day is silenced, the key to advertising that works is telling something important to people in a way that gets their attention.

You can call that anything you want. You can make it as complicated as you wish. You can gussy it up with all the business-school bushwa you can conjure.

Something is either interesting and relevant or it's not. Or as David Ogilvy once said, "You can't bore people into buying your product."

However, as an industry, we don't want to believe advertising can be as simple as being interesting and germane.

So we introduce other pseudo-medicines into the mix. "Make it contextual." "Do it programmatically." "Be digital first."

Those are horse medicines and we have a human problem. And like most human problems, the answer is staring us in the face.

Covid or advertising, take the right medicine.

Not what you want to be the right medicine because of your personal belief system or agenda. But the one that's been field-tested and proven to work.

Life, and death, and advertising don’t  have to be so hard. We just make them that way.


BTW, apropos of nothing, this is more relevant than any us will ever admit, to everything I've ever written about "big" advertising.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Show me.

Thank you to https the marketoonist 

One of the maxims of advertising--of communication, actually--is that we're better off, we're more convincing when we show rather than tell.

That's why most decent writers prefer facts to adjectives. If I were working for a cruise line, for instance, I wouldn't try to write some sibilant sentence on the sumptuousness of their cabins. I'd like to be able to say something tangible. Like Swabian leather is used in the upholstery (no barbed wire, no little cuts in the surface) and our rooms are about 25 square feet larger--that's extra-space about the size of a queen-sized bed.

The thing about "communications" today is that even though we have phalanxes of planners, a seemingly-endless array of account people and more project managers than there are projects to manage, I don't very often see a brief or get a sound bite that's as succinct and synthesized as the two examples above.

Just as “Adventure is not in a guidebook and Beauty is not on the map. Seek and ye shall find.” The same can be said for interesting details. They're usually not found in powerpoints or briefs.

I've found them by reading. I've found them in annual reports. I've found them by talking to engineers and listening to focus groups. I've found them by reading some more--reading everything. 

Of course, noticing them and listing them is one thing. Finding out and explaining the purpose behind them is another. And that takes this thing we call thinking. It takes asking questions. In the clarion words of America's greatest-living historian, Robert Caro, it means you must "turn every page."

The only way to train yourself to do this is to train yourself to do this.

For fifteen years, I've beaten myself into finding something interesting to write every day.

Though I am an anachronism in today's world--especially today's advertising world where we seem content to say content is anything anyone creates, I am not budging from my beliefs.

I still fundamentally believe in the old AIDA. Attention. Interest. Desire. Action. To be effective, a communication must contain these components or it will be unheard, unseen, unmotivating, unremembered and uninspiring. Today, it seems most agencies and clients believe only in the second A. Thinking they can get Action on the cheap.

Not only do they ignore Newton's Third Law of Motion, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, they ignore an even older belief that you can't get something for nothing. They think if they yell enough, I'll buy their shitty beer or switch my cable (lack-of)-provider.

Creating another tweet for processed corn chips proclaiming something "The Official Snack Food of Football," is about as interesting as a sneeze into a wet facemask. It adds nothing to the facemask and it can get you sick.

When you get down to it--regardless of your "role" in advertising or at the client--our job is to find something interesting to say. That means looking at something old in a new way. Or digging deep deep deep and uncovering something no one's thought of before. Or expressing an idea in a way that's never been expressed.

Very often people shake their heads and say to me, how do you write every day?

I don't usually say anything.

Other than mumbling that I believe in showing, not telling and my job--is showing that I can find something to say every day.

In today's era of "always-on" brands, where Arm & Hammer baking soda sends out nine messages a day on 27 social channels, every-day-ness is our business.

I'm old.

I'm not supposed to get social media. I don't really understand the efficacy of programmatic or the algorithmic manipulation behind SEO and other such pseudo-chazerai. 

But I do know that virtually every time I post something, I get a fairly large client engagement from it.

And I do know that about 20 months into running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, I'm probably bigger than most agencies that are bigger than me.

All right, that last part was a lie.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

More lies.

I woke up yesterday morning, amid the usual Covid gloom and saw this headline in "The Wall Street Journal."

Something seemed off to me. So, I clicked over to "The New York Times," where I found this:

I turned to my wife, who's smarter than I am about science and data. Smarter, but also less cynical when it comes to Big Pharma.

"Isn't this," I asked, leading the witness, "the same as 'Root Beer Bottlers' Study Says A&W and Dad's Cures 17 Types of Cancer."

After all, it's a study by J&J--a company who, not long ago, was party to a party $26 billion settlement owing to false claims and over-selling of dangerous opioids. It's a study by X promoting X.

"Priests' study says sodomy good for pre-teen boys."

"Coal Company study says Black Lung Disease extends Life Expectancy."

In fact, I don't know enough about J&J's booster studies. But I do know, they haven't yet been verified by objective third parties like the Food and Drug Administration. Until they are, headlines like the ones above aren't news, they're advertising.

And not good advertising.

Because they're empty claims at a time when we need more than claims.

As the Roman poet said two millennia ago, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards?

As for advertising itself, our industry, in its present blighted form, is further blighted by loud trumpets and drum-banging in the ugly form of the case-study video. Many creatives put such crap in their books. They're expensive, non-fact-checked films about the amazing success of this or that bit of agency work that propelled a brand or a product forward.

"We got 62 billion impressions."

"Sales rose 51 percent."

"We were third in a competitive field and within months blew by the leaders."

"We changed culture because ActionNew 47 in Muncie, Indiana had a piece on our brand on just before the weather."

We've all heard, we've all seen, we've all probably written and cut these spurious lies.

Though we're purportedly in the truth business.

Just yesterday I got a phone call from a client. I had flown out to work with this client in July--my first business trip since Covid and first since I've been flying solo. 

I didn't know what I was getting into, but moments after I entered a giant conference room, I found myself in front of 75 people from all over the country. Seconds later, with everyone watching I was asked to write a manifesto--live--for a complicated offering that would be presented to the company's board in just hours.

I felt like I was back at Ogilvy writing an eight-page insert without a brief, "you know what to write, George," at two in the morning.

This client called me yesterday to ask me if I had any time to do some more work with them.

"You really nailed that manifesto," he said.

"Thank you," I said. "I may ask you for a quotation for GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company's website."

"No problem," he said.

I have a lot of these sorts of conversations with clients--either on the phone or via email.

Some years ago, I had done some work that a client was very pleased with. 

"Sales are up 100 percent," my client said to his boss.

His boss answered. Snidely. "From two units to four."

I like when clients tell me how happy they are or they've been with GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company.

For now on when they send me a note of thanks, I'll probably ask them to have them notarized, or at least signed by a witness or two. Hopefully someone with no recent arrests or peccadillos.

Then, I'll put these notes on my site. Why shouldn't I?

Though, I really can't wait till I can rip off Dave Dye's ad below. 

That's what I'm aiming for.


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Garbage Barge. And its Captains.

When I was young, say 30, there was a big news story in New York. I might be getting some of the details wrong, but go with me on this one.

This was probably 1990, and Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill, the largest man-made structure ever had reached its capacity. It was accepting no more garbage.

During its peak years, Fresh Kills was accepting 29,000 tons of garbage a day. If it continued at that rate, the heap of diapers and soda bottles would have reached a height of 500 feet and it would have been the tallest peak on the East Coast, south of Maine's Mt. Desert Island.

There was a loaded garbage barge that was turned away from the dump and couldn't find landfall anywhere. My art director at the time was from an old school--he could actually draw. He drew a sketch of the hundreds of rejected storyboards we had done together laden on a barge, looking for a final resting place.

Not too long ago, I saw a personal promotion online of someone who was leading an in-house agency for a vaunted technology brand. She boasted of "leading 700 people."

Not long after that, I saw an article in a press-release published under the aegis of journalism that said the in-house agency of a snack and soda company would "produce 1,000 pieces of content for the company’s brand portfolio."

Just as your portfolio is only as good as your worst ad, the same is true for a brand's. Make one-thousand Rolls-Royces. One is sure to stink.  

In World War II, to counter massive Allied air-raids, the Nazis,  developed 
Düppel, a cloud of small, thin pieces of aluminum strips, metal or plastic which would confuse enemy radar and confound bomb-siting. The Nazis would launch into the atmosphere hundreds of thousands of these pieces of chaff which would appear on radar as a cloud.

I'll be blunt.

I don't understand the purpose of all this content. I don't know who it reaches. And less, I don't know who it gets to try or buy. Who it entices or persuades.

I don't know anyone who likes being sold to with the persistence of gnats during a humid summer twilight.

Most of the content work I see--because it reaches a very small audience--is done on the cheap. It's ugly, amateurish, unoriginal and sloppy. At least the things I see don't make me like the brand making them. They annoy me. Which leads me to dislike a brand.

Back before most other people, way back in the late 1990s, I wrote one of the first websites for Mercedes-Benz in the United States. What struck me writing this was that the page had no bottom. You could write as much as you liked. The space would infinitely expand.

Rightly or wrongly, I brought discipline to the pages I wrote. "What would the viewer like?" That was my test.

Too little and you've given them the maraschino cherry and not the drink. Too much and you've annoyed them.

I don't think there are one-thousand things Fritos could tell me in a year that would make me think better about Fritos. I certainly don't need three Frweets a day or two two-minute "films" a week about onion dip or eating snacks on the beach.

For the life of me, I can't think of anything long-lasting and positive something like this would do for a brand. Worse, I conclude--just as I conclude when I see the 97th-light-airplane dragging a Geico banner along the Connecticut coast, that the brand is making too much money selling its products and also wasting too much money.

It's great to be able to talk.

It's better to have something to say.

That people want to hear.

Lest they pull their tostito scoops bucket hat over their ears.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

A song (atonal).

As usual, I have my nose buried deep in yet another e-book. Some years ago, my therapist of 30 years mentioned to me that for me reading is my restorative niche--it's a moment where I try to erase the world that is too much with me.

It works.
Right now, I am about halfway through the second book I've read by James Rebanks. Rebanks' first book, "A Shepherd's Life" was recommended as one of the "New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year." His new book, "Pastoral Song," got a glowing review in "The Wall Street Journal." I  ordered the book in a trice, and quickly found--though it's about farming--a metaphor for life in the modern holding company world.

Rebanks and his family is, to my mind, stuck between the ancient farming world of his grandfather and the changed world of modern factory-farming. 

The grandfather's world in farming is akin to the old style of advertising. The factory-farming world is the world of the holding company. Where size and efficiency matter more than craft, people and even, flavor and nutrition.

The transition from craft farms, of small groups of people growing by hand to large, corporate-led industrial factory-farming is so similar to what's happened in advertising.

The product is devalued. (A chicken today is in real dollars about half the price of 50 years ago. Just as in real dollars advertising costs, I'd bet, about half of what it cost 50 years ago.) 

According to Rebanks, "the share of the average American citizen's income spent on food has declined from about 22 percent in 1950 to about 6.4 percent today." And the proportion of every dollar spent on food that goes to the person actually growing the food has shrunk to just 15 percent.

I suspect the proportion of client marketing dollars spent in agencies has similarly plummeted.

About a month ago in this space, I wrote: "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."

I find those parallels frightening.
The producer is devalued. (The farmer now produces millions not dozens of chickens. The farmer is unimportant. Each unit he produces is a tiny portion of his overall production. He gets pennies per piece. Like an Instagram ad.) 

The customer gets shit (though at a lower price.) Modern chicken--modern advertising--is dull and tasteless and with little nutritional value, or actually, it might actually be physically harmful.

To quote the review in the WSJ, "'Productive' and 'efficient' become watchwords. Father and son spray pesticides to eradicate thistles and nettles and become more reliant on machines. They stop growing barley and turnips, clear trees and hedgerows, lose farm workers, and replace horses, pigs and hens with more cattle and sheep.

"Both men harbor doubts about the radical changes they are implementing. Gradually those doubts prove to be well-founded. The first wake-up call is the discovery that the artificial fertilizers they’ve been using have made the soil worse, reducing it to 'a junkie requiring more and more hits of shop-bought chemicals.' Then Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” opens Mr. Rebanks’s eyes to the dangers of pesticides. He comes to realize that industrial farming may well be productive but in ecological terms is “the most destructive farming on earth.”

Yes, I'll admit, I'm cynical. I think the advertising industry's so-called modernization has destroyed the advertising industry. Every adjective in the review above, I believe, could be applied to the holding company construct:

The emphasis on productivity. On efficiency. On driving cost out of the system. On servicing the business with low-cost, unskilled, disconnected labor. Reliance on machines. And more.

The harm--the disconnect from craft, the loss of generations of knowledge--is incalculable.

We've made a choice as a society.

A choice I will battle until I die.

That the old ways have no value and the new ways are a triumph. But maybe, like farming, we are employing the advertising equivalent of powerful pesticides. And we have sown the seeds of our own destruction.

Worse, we tell ourselves we're making smart decisions.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Why tell the truth when you can lie?

People who know me and work with me know that I might be the last person in advertising to actually believe in advertising. Or, if that's going too far, maybe we can just say I'm the last person in advertising to quote Dr. Samuel Johnson. 

260 years ago, Johnson said, "Promise, large promise, is the soul of advertising."

That sentence, and Carl Ally's from 65 years ago, "We impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way," have always guided me.

I'm old fashioned, I know. 

Somebody needs to be. Like George Bailey, I was born old. And I was born in a shtetl (Yonkers) and you don't out-grow that.

Born old means I don't over-promise.

I don't exclaim.

I don't prevaricate.

I don't say one thing when I mean another. 

I avoid jargon and cliches.

Yet, most commercials I see today--from ubiquitous car ads with some shapely thing selling some shapeless thing for $299/month, or some oligopolistic telco selling dropped calls for $49/month, or some oligopolistic cable company bait-and-switching you for programming you can't stand, or a raft of pharma companies polluting the airwaves with hotdog-fingered disclaimers for the claims they've made--are so full of half-truths, un-truths, deceptions and lies that it's no wonder that no one believes anything anymore from anyone.

I've been saying since the post-truth era of trump puked upon us that the key aim of advertising today should be re-establishing trust.

You do that by telling the whole truth.

Plainly and simply.

In meaningful ways.

Over and over.

Truth is in every action your brand takes. 

In how you charge.

In how you make things.

In how you pay people.

In how you hire and fire. 

And so on.

As Mr. Keats said back in 1819 (he'd never get a job today)

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

An agency could do worse than posting those words over reception. Assuming reception hasn't been replaced by a magnetic card and a whiteboard.

Just now, I read a book review in the Wall Street Journal--the cheery, fascist, Murdoch-owned newspaper that has the best book section in America. I'd stop reading the WSJ in a minute, save for that book section. But articles by Mike Pence and Karl Rove notwithstanding, I can't quite let the Journal go.

The review is of a book called "The Power of Trust," When Reliable is Possible. You can see the review here--but only if you can get through the Journal's Staasi-derived paywall. Because you can't, I'll do some selective summarizing. 

The review starts out like this. Too good a paragraph not to copy in its entirety. It's not every day someone other than me quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"Ralph Waldo Emerson is rarely invoked when people are discussing business and national economies, but he captured a nice point when he observed that “distrust is very expensive.” When individuals lack confidence in the quality and reliability of the products they’re buying—from meatloaf to mutual funds—commercial exchange is impeded and economic growth thwarted. It’s no coincidence that countries with high levels of distrust have high rates of poverty as well."

The purpose of the book is expressed this way (pay attention agency leaders, clients, and the remaining three people who give a shit.)

"The authors provide an overview of trust’s role in business...  describing companies that have fostered trust, lost it or regained it. Their goal... is to provide readers with a road map “to build, improve, recover, or sustain the trust of the people and groups who rely on you, and whom you rely on, to build a thriving business.”

That's a pretty good synopsis of a bona-fide corporate objective, if you ask me. Whether you're a serial liar like Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, Exxon-Mobil, Facebook, Google, Uber or just about anyone else we spend our money on.

I haven't read Sucher and Gupta's book yet. And the WSJ review (which I won't paste here) ends with their typical posture that in the cutthroat world of global business, anything goes.  Truth is like driving with your brake on.

That's a position I can't agree with.

I still believe what I think of as a simple truth. People like brands that act like the people they like. trump/republican cultists aside, most people don't like being lied at.

They don't like the 600 words of legal copy in every ad.

They don't like the cognitive dissonance they experience when a company says one thing, or projects one image, and follows another course.

I can only really concern myself with how a company tells people what they do.

Our job is to tell the truth.

To help people believe in the value of the truth.

And to hope the brands we work for have a truth worth telling. Or to convince them to make their products better so we can tell the truth.


Friday, August 20, 2021

Missing the job. A visit from The Word Man.

editor's note:

I don't know Dave Harland but he's a writer and someone who posts funny things online--on Twitter and LinkedIn. I found over time that a lot of things I found funny were written by "The Word Man."

On Wednesday, I saw a short piece The Word Man wrote and I loved it. I sent him a note--a carrier pigeon, I believe--and asked if he would "host" it in this space. Lucky for all of us, Dave agreed.

So many people with so many degrees in so many exalted places over so many powerpoint pages make advertising or marketing or content or communications or messaging so complicated.

Half the time I read these proclamations--about brands being companions or part of a community or forces for social good and I don't know what they're talking about or who they're trying to snow.

The brands I deal with, I just want them to do their job. 

My burger rolls, I want to hold a burger. My seltzer, I just want to quench my thirst. My dish soap, I don't want to clean petroleum off endangered waterfowl. I want to finish the dishes so I can watch Jeopardy!

Mostly I think people want brands, and anyone else who interrupts them, to make the interruption worthwhile. Give me something thoughtful, beautiful, weird. But mostly funny.

That's what Dave seems to do.

I wish more people could.


Endless autonomy. Creative freedom. Zero idiot bosses. And unlimited earning potential. Just four of the reasons why, five years ago this week, I decided to jump ship as in-house head of copy to become a full-time freelance copywriter.


It was definitely the right decision to go solo, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t still fondly reminisce about the place I commuted to for nearly a decade.


Here are the 16 things I miss the most from the employed life...


1. Being cornered in the kitchen every Monday morning by Martin from accounts, who would give me an in-depth account of his latest caravanning weekend, usually somehow mentioning his gas bottle and/or awning. I cherished these mini masterclasses in tedious storytelling.


2. Phoning in sick. My ability to put on a hoarse voice, lie about terrible symptoms and remain pessimistic when asked my expected return-to-work date has not been flexed for five years. If I'm sick nowadays, my only option is to curl into a ball, turn emails off, and cry.


3. Colleagues copying senior management into emails to score points. This brilliant indication of the character of the person doing the copying allowed me to cease potential friendships before they flourished. Today, the only person with the power to deceive me, is me. And he does try really hard tbh.


4. Monthly review meetings. My one opportunity to vent at my boss about their terrible leadership without fear of reprisals except being given one star out of five for 'workplace positivity', whatever the fuck that is.


5. Clocking off at 5pm and then not thinking about work again until about 10.30am the next day (despite clocking back in at 9am).


6. Having to wear trousers and a shirt in a non client-facing role. This became some kind of heat endurance challenge during July, when my sweat glands would really stretch their legs. Today, my body wilts at anything over 22 degrees, even in shorts and flip-flops.


7. A ten-tier sign off process where different bosses would correct other bosses' amends, often in real-time, and I was expected to manage it all. It was like a giant, unexciting sudoku that I could never complete.


8. 20 days' paid holiday a year. Genuinely. I get fuck all now.


9. A 0.5% annual pay rise. My last salary increase covered a mega 1.5 months worth of Council Tax! If I want a pay rise now, I have to sensitively ask clients, and it can get awkward, especially when they've already said they'd do it themselves but they've just not got the time.


10. Being undermined by a moron of a director on the daily. My skin is no longer as thick as it was back in the day when the man with zero writing experience called my stuff 'banal'. I've also lost the ability to come up with deeply puerile insults that I never say aloud.


11. Being forced to work on projects I actively hated. Nowadays I can decline work without fear of futile disciplinary proceedings, but this has made me at least 57% less tolerant, and at most 71% less focused when faced with shite jobs.


12. Arriving at work to see a passive-aggressive SECURITY VIOLATION note left on my keyboard by someone from IT because I didn't padlock my laptop to the desk overnight. I used to love Tweeting about that shit.


13. Being asked for my professional opinion about something before being completely ignored. This stopped me ever getting too bigheaded. A masterstroke from management.


14. Getting paid on the same day every month, like clockwork. As a freelancer, I only get paid after sending an average of four reminders, one threat of legal action and a promise of a visit from my uncle Tony.


15. Office lingo. I mean who doesn't love talking about the ETA of the DPS and whether Derek from Sales is giving Linda some TLC in the HSV HQ. It's like a magical insider code that I sadly no longer speak.


16. Uncrucial meetings being called at 4pm on a Friday afternoon when you're gagging for a pint. This taught me the art of making instant enemies, something which now serves me well on Linkedin.


There are plenty more, but I’m getting pretty teary here. Not as much as when I got the annual letter about the 0.5% pay rise, but emotional nonetheless.




About the author


Dave Harland is an anti-bullshit copywriter from Liverpool who goes by the ridiculous pseudonym The Word Man, although his only pathetic superpower is being unstoppable at Scrabble. For two decades, he’s been writing ad and marketing copy with oodles of personality for business and brands who are fed up of boring people to tears. You’ll find him on Twitter as @wordmancopy and on Linkedin, winding-up far-too-serious people usually called Colin or Roderick. He also writes a weekly email about copywriting and storytelling - sign up at thewordman.co.uk


Thursday, August 19, 2021

The new normal. The old normal.

You can hardly spit these days with reading an article or hearing a puffnosticator talking about the NEW Normal and what it will bring. The Ad Aged editorial department asked its staff from offices around the world--how they see the NEW Normal as compared to the OLD Normal. 

Thanks especially to Myrna in Myanmar, Romy in Romania, and Yitzhak in Yonkers.

In the OLD normal, offices had people crowded together, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to maximize employee revenue per square foot.

In the NEW normal, management will threaten to lower the wages of those not willing to be crowded together, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to maximize employee revenue per square foot.

In the OLD normal, people were forced out of the business around the age of 40. At that point, they were making too much money and were replaced by cheaper workers.

In the NEW normal, people are forced out of the business around the age of 35. At that point, they're not making too much money, they're just ugly and so are replaced by cheaper, better-looking workers.

In the OLD normal, agencies were predominately white and male and their work suffered from the myopia implicit in the patriarchy.

In the NEW normal, agencies are predominately white and male except for two female BIPOC hired with Chief Inclusion Officer titles. The work is just as myopic, but in an egalitarian way.

In the OLD normal, we cravenly cajoled unwitting consumers into buying products they didn't need.

In the NEW normal, we cravenly cajole unwitting consumers into believing they're saving the world by buying a particular fabric softener.

In the OLD normal, we wasted four hours a day commuting to offices.

In the NEW normal, we waste four hours a day on banal Zoom meetings that someone needed to schedule at 8 at night to prove how important they are.

In the OLD normal, we spent countless hours in airless conference rooms listening to some self-important needledick drone on.

In the NEW normal, we spend countless hours in airless apartments listening to some self-important needledick drone on, only to be fired when we reach 38.

In the OLD normal, we could convince ourselves that via shooting with famous directors and great actors we were creating something of value worth watching.

In the NEW normal, we have 140 characters and must use the word "Robust" five times.

In the OLD normal, the people at the top had worked for decades in the business. Because of their experience and wisdom, they made 30 to 50 times the median salary of a typical employee

In the NEW normal, the people at the top are accountants. They make 300 to 500 times the median salary of a typical employee because they nominate friends and colleagues to the compensation committee and reward themselves accordingly.

In the OLD normal, people looked the same and thought differently, and they called that homogeneity.

In the NEW normal, people look different and think the same, and they call that diversity.

In the OLD normal, ads went to masses of people and influenced them

In the NEW normal, ads go to masses of influencers who have no effect on people.

In the OLD normal, you could raise a family of four on an advertising salary.

In the NEW normal, you can raise one-fourth of a family on an advertising salary.

In the OLD normal, you could get fired for writing a piece like this.

In the NEW normal, you can get four new clients for writing a piece like this.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

With apologies.

I don't know if this is a good idea or a bad idea. That's like so many ideas, I suppose. Ideas are like red wine. They need to breathe a little bit before you can determine whether or not they're worth it.

It's Sunday morning as I write this and I just got back from the local supermarket--a behemoth of a store that has everything, except what you want. 

As a Jew on the Gingham Coast of Lily Pulitzer Connecticut, nothing makes you feel quite so estranged from the world around you as looking at the Kosher section of a supermarket in a non-Jewish neighborhood. No matter what the season their entire section consists of little more than too-sweet grape juice and Yahzreit candles. You can commemorate the dead, anyway. And get Diabetes 2 while you're at it.

One thing I notice every week as my wife sends me hither with a 12-page single-spaced list full of things they don't have anywhere outside of Dean & Deluca or Zabar's, is that just about every time I shop, something goes haywire and I feel somewhat wronged.

That's not neurosis or aggrievement on my part--it's just that today, everything is done in such a slovenly low-wage manner that something always goes wrong. I'm thinking of the line allegedly uttered by astronaut John Glenn as he hurtled in his capsule back to Earth at something like 18,000 miles per hour.

"I realized everything around me was based on a low-bid."

That's life in America today. Whether you're staying at a Motel 4 or the Four Seasons. Everything is crap because management is always bent on maximizing profit and thereby, de-contenting everything else. So whether it's the plastic bag that breaks the moment you put an ear of corn in it, or the broken keypad on the gas pump so you can't enter your zip code, everything is worthy of an apology.

[My cousins from Boca flew from Atlantic City, where Howard and Deb have a beach place back to Florida on Spirit Air. Spirit Air cheaps on everything. Except the CEO's salary. He'll make $60 million this decade.]

Though I run an agency now--the agency runs around me, I wonder. I hire mensches only and work only with clients who have had the same austere upbringing I have. Accordingly, and oddly, meetings seem to start on time and end on time. People say please and thank you. And when something screws up--or takes longer than it should, as things almost invariably do--we all know how to apologize.

What I've noticed from my supermarket sojourns--and from my nearly 40 years of agency life--is that today the apology is all-but meaningless, if it is given at all.

Mostly, you get an if-pology. "I'm sorry if I offended you. I'm sorry if I did that. I'm sorry if you took that the wrong way." Like auto-insurance in New York State, this is a no-fault apology. The offending incident offends because of your interpretation not the antagonist's errors.

So, you might get copy that has typos or that's too long--according to a structure you've established. What you'll get as an apology is a back-pedal and an ok, little more.

Coming back from the city--my home--to Connecticut where I am a stranger in a strange land, I brought in a Ziploc bag full of six years and eleven pounds of change I had accumulated. 

They have "Coin Star" machines in the grocery store, and for a mere 12.2 percent of your total (usury) they'll convert your anachronistic coins into credit or more useful paper money.

The machine dutifully printed me out a credit slip, redeemable at the cash-register for $168.63, which I assumed when I handed the sleepy-eyed cashier the slip, would be taken off my total.

When I was done checking out and bagging my own groceries in my own bags, the total for the week was roughly the same as it is every week.

I said to the young lady, "Does that include my credit for my coins?"

She finished closing her half-closed eyes and said, "Sorry, I forgot."

She stared blankly at her keyboard and didn't know what to do.

Another sleepy-eyed cashier called over. 

"Send him to the Courtesy Desk," a misnomer if I've ever heard one, on the order of a lost and found at Treblinka. 

There was no, "I'm sorry." No, "let me do that for you." Nothing.

I got to the courtesy desk and there was no one behind the counter. 

"Hello," I falsetto'd. "Hello."

In six minutes a sleepy-eyed older woman came slowly out from the back. She moved as fast as a three-legged dog.

I explained that the cashier forgot to give me my $168.63 and I wanted it.

"No worries," was her standard courtesy.

Slowly, like a two-legged dog, she counted out my money. No big bills, of course, this is the courtesy desk, not Jerome Powell's Fed. And what would a giant supermarket be doing with a $50?

For the life of me, I don't know what "no worries" means. Of course, you have no worries. Your time wasn't wasted and you didn't have to go to two counters for one-counter's worth of service. You also didn't have to pay roughly $20 for the inconvenience of having no worries.

If I ever returned in a senior position to any sort of agency job--or any job--ever again, I would spend a week with every employee on how to apologize--on the very barest and most basics of decency.

Maybe this is a generational thing and my dying generation has different standards and expectations from everyone else. And maybe it's my generation's fault, because we've turned every job into a low-wage, low-skilled endeavor. 

But whether it's waiting 22 minutes for a sandwich the sandwich place promised to have ready 22 minutes earlier or the lack of service in customer service, I'm upset.

I work with clients every day--a lot of that work involves the meaningless phrase "digital transformation," and its effect on the workplace and customer retention.

If it were me, I'd forget about digital transformation for at least five years.

I'd wake up to the notion that everybody, now and again screws up. Sins of omission or commission. Hopefully not emission. When you do, get on with it. Say you're sorry. Fix what you did as soon as you can. In fact, over-compensate. And learn from it.

As for digital transformation, I'd get to it once I had spent the time actually teaching people how to treat other people with kindness, generosity and respect.

There's a lot of transformation--digital or otherwise--that would come from respect.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Why learn?

It's a strange thing to see America flee from Afghanistan. It's a strange thing after trillions of dollars spent (and likely trillions more stolen) that we've left that benighted land, having thought for parts of three decades that our presence would make a difference.

It's a strange thing to live in a world that has no grasp--and no desire to grasp--the details of history, or even the broad sweeps.

I am by no means a historian of the region. Or of the Great Game that was waged between the British and the Russian through the centuries with alliances and treaties flinging back and forth like a ping-pong ball in a hurricane.

But there's some stuff I know.

Alexander the Great failed.

The Indus failed.

The Kushan failed.

The Scythians failed.

The Parthians failed.

The Saffarid failed.

The Ghaznavid failed.

The Ghorid failed.

The Timurid failed.

The Hotaki failed.

The Durrani failed.

The Aryan failed.

The Persians failed.

The Sassanids failed.

The Hephthalites failed.

The Huns failed.

The Mughals failed.

The Arabs failed.

The Turkic failed.

The Hazaras failed.

The Khwarezmids failed.
The Mongols failed.

The British failed.

The British failed.

The British failed.

The USSR failed.

The United States failed.

Maybe next, the Chinese will fail.

Or Jeff Bezos in his attempt to establish Amazonistan.

Or Elon Musk in his stab at Teslastan.

It sucks not to know history because you don't learn from precedent. 

I'll add, it sucks to know history, because no one else knows it, so you're all alone.

It sucks that to most of the world, the past isn't prologue. It's an encumbrance.

I remember having read about some 19th Century British attempt to subdue the land. And ambushed British soldiers being skinned and having their entrails sewn into their skin. 

I remember thousands of skulls being catapulted over ancient walls. And a fluke snowstorm dooming hundreds of Brits--and even Ghurka--to the most horrid deaths.

Mark Read's notorious statement about getting rid of people like me because I hearken back to the 1980s, is the sort of thinking that I believe dominates militaries around the world. 

History ain't as important as ordnance.

So we make the same mistakes over and over.

Advertising, too.

Infatuation with data is just dumbness du jour. There will be something else next year that rationalizes 20 percent C-level bonuses and the firing of 20 percent of your staff.

In advertising, we know no past--the great business/advertising/marketing successes and failures are neither taught nor studied, so every day every one in every agency learns to ride a rickety bicycle all over again.

A lot of the commercials heralded as "good" in the trade-press aren't much better than commercials from the early days of television advertising. 

I can't believe how many people spontaneously begin to dance in contemporary advertising.

Or how much this crap in 2021 is even worse than this crap was in 1951.

This is not to say that a nation or an agency can be led based solely on historical precedent. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, as they say. But if you're camping in the woods, stay away from men wearing hockey masks and carrying chainsaws. And if you're captaining an ocean liner, avoid, at all costs, icebergs.

When I talk to clients about their business issues, I often do it with metaphor.

Your issue reminds me of, say, Apple's in 1985 when no one knew what they made or why what they made was needed. Your situation is similar. You might want to think, metaphorically, like this.

There are a lot of people like myself--denizens of the industry--who know the industry like a wise baseball manager knows the ins-and-outs of the game.

They've learned from the past.

When to bunt.

When to crowd the plate.

And so on.

They've been down that road before.

But everything is new every day in today's world.

And there is nothing, ever, to learn.

Why bother?