Friday, December 9, 2022

Requiem for a Species.


Of all the ding-dong devastating lines William Faulkner ever wrote, perhaps the most telling and knelling is this one: The past is never dead. It's not even past. 

Of course, that's more than just a helluva piece of writing. It's a helluva thought. 

A lot of what we see, feel and hear disappears like your fist when you open your hand, but that line could be the stuff of every graduate course in whatever discipline you choose to follow. It could be a trillion Talmudic conversations. And the riddle of the Sphinx. It could be the subject of every conversation until the chiming of the last ding-dong of doom.

Faulkner wrote that sentence in his novel Requiem for a Nun, which, amazingly you can download here. For free.

The trick in our era of course is that it's far easier to download things from the internet than it is to upload them to our brains. I'm not sure why the chieftains of world authoritarianism haven't yet banished, expunged and made illegal free, liberal thought. That's coming, I'm sure, but for now, you can find stuff like this online.

I'm thinking about the past never being dead, or even past because I am thinking about hate.

Faulkner was talking about the sins of our fathers. 

The foundational sins of slavery, rape, murders, lynching, cruelty, and more.

The enduring foundational sins of America.

But he could also be the sins of all the world--including one of the oldest and most-enduring, anti-semitism. 

That the past isn't dead or even past does not mean--not for a second--that we can't do anything about the evil mankind does. It does not excuse us thanks to Martin Heidegger's concept of "Thrownness." That we are thrown through the universe. We have to find love, foundation and stable. How we started is no excuse for how we wind up.

Maybe that's another way of saying what Dr. King meant when he said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

In other words, the road to hell is paved with Kanyes. 

Haters. The doctrinaire. The blamers rather than responsiblers.The cosmologists, who attribute all evil and hardship in the world (as it's defined by them) on a people or a force or a belief they don't like.

If only __________ was eliminated, the world would be great again.

If only everyone believed in __________ like we do, the world would be great again.

That holocaust-ish myopia will never be dead. Or even past.

Read Faulkner.

That's one way of fighting back.

If you can't read Faulkner, at least read this, by Faulkner. It's about the length of a two-minute web "film" on furniture polish or a hamburger topped with mac and cheese. From Faulkner's Nobel Prize Banquet speech. (And, please, no allegations of gendered. Man here is a proxy for humankind.)


"...I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

That's hard to say with false teeth.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

An Old Train Chugs On.

When I was a little boy, the development my parents ascended to the middle-class in was plopped down with forty other houses in garish colors in the middle of what had been a field, or a copse not so many years earlier.

Each house was the same or the reverse of the same and each, smack dab in the middle of the little plot of sod it was centered within, had a single, spindly Charlie Brown tree struggling to grow against the vicissitudes of Cold War suburbia. I was eight before I ever saw a tree taller than me.

Despite having hundreds of Soviet missiles aimed at us and aiming hundreds back from a nearby Nike missile installation, I was free to run around, like a bindlestiff or hobo. Though I was just four or five, I ran as free as a bearcub, and as free from natural enemies as a human could be.





Though most of suburbia was fully suburbia-ized by 1962, there was, about half a mile from my parents' 1500 square of linoleum, the abandoned railroad tracks of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway Company which ran straight and rusty to nowhere. That line was put out of business during the Depression by the New Haven line, leaving me a great place to wander and throw rocks. To this day, two of my favorite past-times.

There's a bit of dialogue in the classic Frank Capra movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," that is too-often overlooked. Ever since I first heard it, it's rattled in my head. Maybe it's my burning bush.

In the anodyne 1960s, I used my imagination to conjure those sounds and those abandoned tracks were like something out of an industrial-age Poe. Haunting. They beat for me like a telltale heart.

Coming into my mother's house, of course, was always a trial. Seeing me cut and scraped and sweaty and filthy, one article or another of clothing torn, and probably just wearing a t-shirt during a more-decorous era, brought out the virago in her. To be precise, the virago was never very far from the surface.

I think if I walked through the door to her home 3,000 times during the fifteen bipedal years I lived with her, I heard 2,997 times, "curiosity killed the cat."

I never understood that statement then, and today, so many years later, I understand it less-than-ever. 

In today's modern world--especially the Fall of the House of Usher world of Holding-Company-Advertising, curiosity--the very foundation of discovery and human advancement--seems to have vaporized. 

We hear (since I went out on my own, I don't hear it any longer) about "best practices," the antithesis of finding a better way. We follow do's and don'ts and most advertising practitioners know exactly how narrow the aperture of acceptable client-buying work is and exactly how to get their spot through the eye of that ever-constricting needle.

Challenging ourselves and our clients has become too challenging.

Even the current mania for project-management--in my last job there seemed to be more people managing the projects than people creating them--puts limits on curiosity. You have a set amount of time to "think." There's a briefing at 10 and a first tissue session at five and so it goes. There's no time to be silly, dumb, counter-intuitive and curious.

So many years ago when I toiled under the desert sun in Mexico, playing baseball for the Seraperos de Saltillo, my manager, Hector Quetzacoatl Padilla, aka Hector Quesadilla, said to me "pay attention to what you pay attention to." 

I've taken that phrase along with me since I first heard it when I was 17. I am 65 now and I rarely don't pay attention to it.

Sorry, Mom. Curiosity has killed not half as many felines as tired acceptance of best-practices and 'that's the way we do it’ have.

I'm lucky, I guess, or cursed. Sometimes they’re the same thing.


I'm reading now "Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America" by Pekka Hamalainen." So around every corner, whether I'm in the concrete of Manhattan or the littoral of my little corner of Connecticut, I try to imagine the life of the people who were here first, how they lived, how they died, how they fought back and were ultimately cast-aside.

There's no advertising point in doing that. Except for one. 

An important one.

Whether wandering down abandoned train tracks at five years of age, or seeing on the turbid waters of the Long Island sound a small fleet of Pequot canoes spearing cod, my imagination is working. I am seeing things, hearing things, piecing together shards and slips of information and trying to form what happened--back then or never, it doesn't much matter.

What matters is thinking.

Seeing.

Walking through life like an old waiter with your head up, scanning the horizon for a hungry diner or for a tip. That's how to go through business, too. With your head up.

And paying attention to what you're paying attention to.

That keeps this old train chugging.







Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Let's Not Learn.

For about the last ten days or so, my social feeds have been abuzz about the "writing" ability of some new and breakthrough AI.

People seem to be cheering-on the demise of people.

I don't understand that. Of course, there's very little I actually do understand. The newer it is, the less sense things seem to make. It's like watching TV with 1000 channels. We were better off with seven channels. We could settle faster or decide there was nothing on faster. Now people spend hours looking for crap.
We used to spend minutes.

Since the beginning of recorded story-telling, roughly 4,500 years ago, story-telling has needed two attributes in order to be effective. While the earliest writing known in the western world was essentially spreadsheets in Cuneiform, foundation myths, adventures, morality tales and the like have leaned on these two components. 

I'm not a neuro-scientist, but I'd imagine from a Chomsky-ized perspective, these two requirements are universal and imprinted in the neural-wiring of our species. Hilary, who runs my business, is also a clinical psychologist, as is my daughter Sarah. I'd bet dollars to diodes they'd agree with me.

Good writing needs two things.

1. Truth.
2. Empathy.

99-percent of all human writing you're likely to see lacks both of these qualities. If there's any non-adjectival truth at all--if there's any objective, not subjective evaluation--it's usually divorced from empathy.

All Ye need to know about communication you can learn from studying these three ads. One made focus groups happy and put clients at ease. One got through to real people who were fed up with being force-fed pablum. One is the au courant triumph of machine-based non-thinking over humanity.

Maybe this is a permutation of one of John Long's "How it Started/How it's Goings/How did it All Go so Wrong."





What do I care that new Downy keeps clothes smelling fresh between washes? Keeping my clothes smelling fresh between washes has never been a problem for me. I'm way more concerned with the global rise of authoritarianism and 15,000 year-old glaciers crashing into the sea as our planet becomes uninhabitable.

It's easy to see no empathy in the way we communicate today. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is thin. Most people break into dance. No one has any real problems. Other than maybe running out of Doritos.

Meanwhile, back in reality-ville, millions of Americans are suffering from diseases of despair and are one paycheck or one broken bone away from insolvency.

When I think about humans talking to humans in advertising in a moving way, I usually go out and find something written by Ed McCabe. He seemed to get it like few have since.

I worked on AI for a long time: IBM Watson. I was Watson's "voice" for five years.

I know its capabilities.

I also know its limitations.

We should stop wishing for machines to become more human. We should start working on being more human to each other.

As they say at TBWA\Chiat\Day:

Those are my thoughts on AI.

And life in general.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Bounce.



I'm turning 65 in two days. 

Every night when I'm done reading, I take an inventory of my joints. I check-in with each of them. They tell me how they're feeling.

My shoulders in particular are complainers.

I try to talk them off the edge.

But every once-in-a-while they hit me right between the eyes. Nothing can hurt you the same way a loved one can. And my shoulders pain me. They don't hold back. I think they hate me.

My right shoulder is the more aggressive one. He said to me the other night, "George, I've been in pain since you went to play baseball in the Mexican Baseball League in 1975. For almost 50 years, it's been painful for me to put on a tee shirt or take off an overcoat. All because you made those throws from your knees to nail those speedy runners during those meaningless games you played so ferociously."

I don't let my right shoulder off the hook that easily.

Listen, I said. 

Life is pain.

Dealing with it. Shaking it off. Overcoming it. Performing well despite it. Keeping on.

Life isn't painless. 

I don't know anyone whose knees haven't been scraped. Whose noggin hasn't been concussed. Whose eyes haven't been blackened and shut from swelling. 


Debra said something in the podcast that woke me up. That made me think of my nightly dialogue with my joints. 

Debra said when she was fired (I hate euphemisms for pain. Fired is fired. Just like died is died. Not passed on) people told her she would "bounce back." In reflection, Debra said the most profound thing I've ever heard from a podcast. 

She said, "I haven't bounced back. I bounced higher."

God bless Debra Fried.

God bless everyone who keeps fighting.

God bless everyone who lives knowing that life isn't a beautiful little home with a white picket fence on Primrose Lane. It's merging onto the Cross Bronx Expressway with a psychotic convoy of 18-wheelers bearing down on you. Oh, and potholes that could swallow a side-of-beef and still be hungry for more.

Life isn't about bouncing back. 

Sure that's resiliency. 

But true resiliency hugs too closely the status quo.

Bouncing higher leaps past where you were. 

It rejects limitations.

It finds headroom where there used to be ceiling.

Hear that, right shoulder?

Let's get with the program.

Let's bounce higher.








Monday, December 5, 2022

Allen Kay, 1945-2022.

I opened "The New York Times" on Saturday morning, early, and Allen Kay's obituary popped out to me. 

Through the magic of Linked In, Allen and I had become friends. It happened as these things seem to with a comment Allen made on one of my posts. 


One comment followed another, and before long we were emailing each other and even talking on the telephone. In a short while, Allen, Rob Schwartz, the
 Chair, TBWA New York Group, and I were crowded into a table at Joe's Shanghai when it was still down on Pell Street and eating about 37 soup dumplings each. 

To people of my generation, Allen was an advertising legend. His agency, Korey Kay, never really rose to the national scene, but for feisty, punch-above-their weight New York advertising, they were one of the best. The best comparison I can think of is this. Korey Kay reminded me of the legends of New York school yard basketball. Where at the Rucker playground in particular, there would be local players superior to those stars in the NBA, but for whatever reason, they never made it to the NBA.

Guys like Goat Manigault, Jumping Jackie Jackson, Joe "the Destroyer" Hammond and Pee Wee Kirkland.

That's not entirely true, of course, because Allen, while at Needham Harper and Steers (a great agency destroyed by merger mania) created one of the most famous commercials of all time, "Brother Dominic," for Xerox. The Times gives that spot credit for establishing the Super Bowl as a commercial showcase.

Today, 48 years after it first aired, it's difficult for people to understand the impact that spot had. 

The day after it ran, everyone was talking about it. And every business saw the importance of spending money on copiers, which were then not ubiquitous.

Allen seemed to do that "stop everyone in their tracks" act over and again. His campaign for Tri-State Honda, "The Car that Sells Itself," was probably the strongest car dealer campaign ever created--with not a sexy spokeswoman and cascading balloon in sight. Or anything like $199/month deals.


Given the "recency heuristic," Allen is probably most-well-known for writing the now seminal line for the Metropolitan Transit Authority: "If you see something, say something." That line saved lives--and it started as a subway car card.

Dinner with Allen and Rob was good. 

We kibbitzed. We talked about the business. What it's done. What it can do again. And our belief in its dignity, power and importance.

Allen and I ate again at some Italian place up near Grand Central. And for pretty much the rest of his life, he and I exchanged notes and Linked In bon mots.


Nice little ways of showing each other that someone else was out there, who just maybe, understood something most people don't. When I was kicked out of Ogilvy and was thinking of one of King Henry IV's speeches from Shakespeare's "King Henry, IV, Part Two," that is, "How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!" Allen helped me ignore the chimes of midnight.

Till his very end, Allen was hustling for business. Doing work, leading, helping smaller clients get bigger. Allen's sleight of hand is the sleight of hand of great advertising. 

Taking a small amount of money, mixing it with an unusual idea, adding in humor, wit, humanity, empathy and love for the underdog and doing something that changes hearts and minds and in so doing, fills pocketbooks.

The industry is a lesser place today.

Unless we remember, and learn, from the likes of Allen Kay.




Friday, December 2, 2022

Not Net.

There was something in Adweek earlier this week that was actually reporting. Usually the trade press prints nothing but press-releases. But here, they printed something relatively contrary. (I think they call it the trade press because they trade their integrity for your ad buys.)



They wrote a story about a PR RFP from the Keurig Dr. Pepper company, demanding 360-day payment terms. In other words, you submit a bill on December 2, 2022 and getting paid around Thanksgiving, 2023.

I've been trained to write NET 30 on all my bills. And all my arrangements with the clients I work with are supposed to be on that basis. I get paid in 30 days.

Most often that stretches to 45 or 60 or 120.

And, me, the little guy can do very little about that. They're supposed to pay a vig of 1.5%/month once they're late. But I can't imagine having my lawyer trying to go after that money.

One, it would cost me more than they'd get me.
Two, it would piss off the client.
Three, they'd never pay the extra anyway. 

Something has happened in the world today. I think it might be worse now than it's ever been.



I think for a time, the American spirit was to root for the underdog. To take the people born on third who think they hit a triple down a peg. 

We used to cheer Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or It's a Wonderful Life. Or Gary Cooper in Meet John Doe or High Noon. Or Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock. Or William Powell in My Man Godfrey. We used to root against bullies. That's why there are so many Yankee haters in the world.

But today, generally speaking, we see to take the side of bullies. It explains so many people supporting doonot trump, wealth-transfer reverse robin-hood-republicanism (steal from the middle-class and give to the rich) and Koch-industry-backed planet-destroying initiatives.

When you root for bullies, you become a bully.

And bully-ism becomes the method a la mode.

If the inflation rate is eight-percent a year, taking a year to pay someone is taking one-out-of-every-twelve-dollars from them. That's eight percent.

Even giving your employers Net 60 allows them a 1.3-percent discount. You and I don't get to do that. Why should companies?

The power, in other words, is far from the little guy.

Net 360.

Is that how a human should treat another human?






Thursday, December 1, 2022

How to Not Suck.

As you get on in years, a lot of making your way depends on how you deal with emergencies.

I had really good kids. Smart, touch wood. Healthy, touch wood. Sensible, touch wood. And considering their source, mentally stable, touch Sequoia. 

That said, there are times you're faced with emergencies. A school paper is due but isn't written. Or it's written but isn't printed and they have to leave for school now. Or someone got caught by the cops drinking beer in the park. And showed a fake ID.

Like I said, emergencies.

As you get on in work years, you also have to deal with emergencies. Especially if you believe in being a doer, not just a presider. 

There are times it's up to you. 

It's a video script involving the CEO of a Fortune 50 company. Or there's some sword of Damocles hanging over the client/agency relationship and something needs doing now. Or cuts come back from a shoot and they suck.

There are times it's up to you. 

I read something not too long ago by a screenwriter I admire. Someone asked her about her writing process.

Some people "ornate-ti-cize" the way in which they get down to work. They need a certain kind of coffee, twelve sharpened Ticonderogas, some Dvorak on the iPod, complete hermetic silence and elaborate briefing documents.

I've learned that when it's up to you you're no longer a high-end surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering or Cleveland Clinic. You're a triage doctor one-hundred yards from the front line with cordite residue on your scalpel. You work with what you have.

What I've learned is simple: Write fast. Write your first draft completely. Write it fast. Write it all the way through. Edit as you go, if you must. But write to get it done.

Then take a walk around the block. Or go home for the night. Or otherwise give your brain and typing fingers an intermezzo.

Then come back to the page you've written, that's the best you could do in the moment you were doing it in, and rewrite what you've written.

The logic is simple: It's easier to re-write than write. So spend less time doing what's hard and more time doing what's simple--and arguably more important since it's closer to the end product.

Write fast. Re-write slow.

I make this an everyday practice.

That's how I've been able to write over 6,500 blog posts and keep a fairly extensive book of clients happy.

I often hear myself saying to clients, "I don't like talking about theory. I don't like talking hypotheticals. I don't like what could be's. Let me show you what is.

"Based on how I listen, how I think and how much of this I've done, I happen to think that if you brief me at 10, I should have something to share that's 80-percent of the way there by 11.

"Then, together we can take the piece the rest of the 20-percent. You can bring your knowledge to bear. I can bring my craft. It's a whole lot better than wasting time on a whole lot of speculation and perseveration."

Often the first thing I do when I have something to do is create a document called "Client's name_running_date." 

On this page, I work. I write down everything. Every start, every finish, every visual idea, every reference I can find. These documents are often dotted with precise quotations from the client. Things I've heard them say or read on their walls or from their annual report.

It's very contemporary for brands and agencies to talk about "social listening." Working on this document is my way of conducting "professional listening." It stems from my belief that the answer to most things is usually rattling around your personal cosmos--the trick is finding a way to find it. The trick is finding the confidence to trust your ears and to trust what you hear.

It's funny to me how often the truth of a brand--its centrality--is close to the surface. Most brands remain inscrutable ('hard to crack,' in the parlance of our business) because we are looking for something vague and mysterious rather than what's looking us in the eye.

Back during the presidential debates in the year 2000, there was a town hall debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Bush was promulgating tax cuts and claiming they would be fair.

Gore did something uncharacteristic for him. He walked out from behind his podium and to the fringe of the stage. His hand swept from one side of the audience to the other. He said:

I remember turning to my wife and saying, 'if he sticks with that message he will win.' Of course he didn't. And people heard tax cuts and voted for Bush.

That's what I mean.

Hear what's said.

And if it's good, use it.

Don't be put off because it came to you on a silver platter.

But as Glinda reminded Dorothy, sometimes you have to find that out by yourself.





Wednesday, November 30, 2022

You Don't Pays Your Money.

For about 30-years now, I've been saying--without real foundation--that the advertising industry is a low-wage industry. That could be because I sent my children to one of New York City's elite private schools and one-third of the parents worked in finance, one-third for one of the big law firms and one-third made so much money, you had no idea what they did. I think one or two other parents worked in advertising. When there were giant fundraisers, we sat in the back and tried to be invisible. 

So on the basis of the people I was hanging out with, this guy at Lazard-Freres, this woman at Goldman, this guy at Paul Weiss and this woman who was head of oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, I judged that there was no one in the advertising industry, not even the holding company potentates or LPAs (lead Ponzi activators) that came close in income to the people at the head of my un-peered peer group.

However, I had no proof.

I knew, or suspected, that in real dollars salaries in the 21st century were lower than those of the 1970s. And certainly advertising people in the 2020s were not able to live as well as those in the high-flying mad-men era.

I remember finding out that a friend of mine in 1994, a Group Creative Director was making $192,000. My partner who was an Executive Creative Director was given the lease on a Saab (the agency had the account) and even at my first time at Ogilvy, from 1999-2004, I was given a premium executive healthcare, an $8000 car allowance and $3000 parking allowance. That sort of sweetening did not exist (at least for me, the mere Copy Chief and ECD of the New York agency.)

As old married people do, my wife and I seem to read good portions of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal aloud to each other. I think this is an affectation of aging. Or at least of our times.

So much in the paper and the world is so outrageous you almost have to say it out-loud to let go of the outrage toxins. Half the shit you see you shouldn't keep inside you. It's like suppressing a sneeze. I don't think it's good for your innards.

I read not long ago, and thanks to my eidetic memory I've stored it, that the median salary of the Interpublic Group was $59,800. It was even lower over at Omnicom; $50,600. That means in the case of IPG, 50-percent of its employees make more than $59,600 and 50-percent make less.

Ouch. (An average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New York is $5,000. Life is even more costly across the river in Jersey City, where the average rent is $5,500. In other words at a median salary, you can't come close to affording the rent on an average apartment.)

Now, here's where my wife chirped, from the "Heard on the Street" column of "The Wall Street Journal."




The median worker at Meta earned $292,785 last year. Here's some more wage data from the frighteningly reactionary WSJ.

My point is simple.

And to my eyes pretty scary.

Advertising used to pay well. Money, plus creativity, plus a soupcon of glamor allowed the industry to compete--at least somewhat--for some of the best and the brightest. 

Now the money is better elsewhere. The glamor is gone. And rarely do I see something I consider creatively interesting.

Fairfax Cone, the C of the IPG agency FCB, once said, "The inventory goes down the elevator every night." There's an inference in that that you should take care of your inventory. At least if you want to compete for the best talent. 

And if agencies/holding companies can't compete for the best talent, how do they compete at all?

Cone's quotation might be re-written in fact for today. "Without offering competitive wages and rewards, how do I get the inventory to come up the elevator every morning?"

That seems to be yet another issue in the advertising industry that no one is talking about.

Maybe Cannes should give a Zirconian Lion for the most underpaid creative team working on a spot that no one paid for, so millionaire holding company chieftains can enjoy rosé on 160-foot yachts in the south of France.

Then people might pay attention.





Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Persistence of Memory.

I wrote something last week about the old Carl Ally agency, or its renamed successor agency, Ally & Gargano. When I was at the later permutation from 1990 to 1995, I stumbled upon a sheet of paper with the agency mission typed on it in that ancient courier typeface. I liked it and quickly memorized it.

Soon after I posted that, I got a note from the great Ron Berger, one of the most-storied of Ally's copywriters, who later founded an agency, Messner Berger Vetere Carey Schetterer that eventually turned into EuroRSCG and now Havas.

I asked Ron if I could repost our conversation, and he kindly said yes. I hope you learn as much from Ron as I did.




And here, at long last is the point of today's post. I realize I could be wrong in that I am both a student and a practitioner of advertising, so I pay, in all likelihood undue attention to advertising.

I wrote back to Ron that his Fiat ad (which I searched for and couldn't find) and the work that Ammirati & Puris did for BMW "The Ultimate Driving Machine," are still etched in my brain--50 or more years after they originally ran.

That, in brief, is the power of a powerful thought. As Rob Schwartz, CEO of the TBWA Group in New York once said to me, the most valuable real estate in the world is owning a piece of someone's brain.

Like "four score and seven years ago." Like Shakespeare's "St. Crispin's speech, "
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me/ Shall be my brother;..." Like "I have a dream." Like "Ask not..." Like "I can't get no..." And so on.

While the mania of our industry seems to impel us to "cultural relevance," whatever that means, culture in today's world lasts about as long as a fart in a windstorm. 

However, the real power of communications lays in creating a seminal summary thought that captures a spirit and, if this isn't too pompous, an ethos we aspire to.

If I had a dime for every client who's said to me, "I need something like IBM's "Smarter Planet," (which hasn't been used for almost ten years," or Dove's "Real Beauty," or Apple's "Think Different," which might be thirty-year's dormant, I'd have at least fifty cents now.

My point is simple.

The real power of advertising is that, at its best, it can be more than ephemeral trend-surfing. It can be a deep, well-carved permanent installation like the Elgin Marbles. It can weather brand storms and stormy CMOs who blow--worse than a storm--hot and cold. The real power of advertising, when it is good and innate and truly true to the brand and helps center it as well, is that it is enduring. It can lead and guide.

But that can't happen--it seldom happens now--because clients change CMOs and brand-definitions as often as frat houses change rolls of toilet paper after their semi-monthly "Bean Burrito Bash."

My two cents:

Fuck culture.
Find truth.

Find a belief that is implicit to a brand. Express it artfully and memorably. And have the courage of your convictions that this expression is not a two-year thought or a ten-year thought. But is something to build a dream, and a fortune, on. 

Advertising can be more than just an interruption. It can be more than just a sales-enabler. More than just an announcement of another cosmic Toyotathon.

It can be the foundation of all actions a company and a brand takes. It can guide workers, management, and consumers. Much like the foundation myths of America or the United Kingdom or any religion or any other enduring polity have--at least somewhat--guided them.

We need to stop thinking of advertising as expensive, trend-chasing ephemera. When it is more. It can be a cost-effective and life-saving lighthouse.








Monday, November 28, 2022

Time. Not on Your Side.



One of the (many) things I think our species gets consistently wrong is time. In Pulitzer-Prize-winner Ed Yong's new book, "An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us," (pictured above) Yong compares human senses to those of animals to show how narrow and limited we are. How despite occupying the same planet with so many remarkable creatures, we make humans the measure of all things, and consider other species as "others." We normalize the planet for ourselves--and look at dogs, dolphins, crows, osprey as "weirdos."

But let me switch to the human realm and Matthew Green's "Shadowlands: A Journey Through Britain's Lost Cities and Vanished Villages," pictured above.

So much of our "breaking news," "living-for-the-next-quarter" culture is sullied by "in-the-moment-ness," we forget that what passes for our planet is been changing constantly for the roughly 4.6 billion years since the Big Bang.

Even since Homo Sapiens arrived on the scene, about 200,000 years ago, we've been changing course like a butterfly in a cyclone. It's easy to walk down the street and see yet another new chain store and think, "Just two-years ago, there was a really good diner there. It had been there forever." Except to modern human sensibilities, forever is about five years. 

In reality, the way we measure time and the way our universe measures time are as different as a mensch and donald trump. They simply don't align. 

If you think about how the Ancients charted the stars or how they knew where giant pods of whales would be when, it's because they studied these things for hundreds of years--each generation adding to the details and knowledge of the generations that came before. Maps weren't digitized, they were prized and passed-on as received (literally) knowledge.

If you ever wondered how our forerunners spread out from Africa all over the globe--how they got to Siberia or East Asia for instance, it seems nearly impossible with our modern concept of time. But if you understand that to get to China from the Land of Lucy, humans only had to travel a mile a year for 9,000 years, well, that's a relative snap.

Things are worse in Amerika than they are in most everywhere else in the world, because we Americans think we invented the continent. We here have nothing, in an Asian, European, African sense of the word, old.

At least that's the way we see it.

We New Yorkers think of pre-war buildings as old--when they're about 100 years of age. We don't know of Clovis points found in Clovis, New Mexico about 90 years ago. They date from approximately 20,000 BC to 11,000 BC.  Yet the town of Clovis, NM, population 39,000, celebrated its 'centennial' in 2009. There are a million instances like that--from the shell mounds in America's southeast to Ahokia in the midwest, to the adobe cities in the southwest. And no one knows for sure, when, or how long the Kelp Highway, brought people from Asia to the Americas.

My point is simple.

We think of time almost cataclysmically. That it's running out. That we are millenarians and are nearing the rapture or the end times, or Elizabeth Kolbert's (another Pulitzer-winner's) Sixth Extinction. 

And we may be.

What do I know? I grew up with mis-matched socks in Yonkers, New York and I'm a self-employed copywriter.

However, if you read Shadowlands, any book about "long history," you'll see that the earth itself is not a permanent structure. Cliffs fall into the sea. Rivers change course. Fertile land becomes desert. And once great cities sink into the ground and disappear. Change is what is normal. Permanent is as fantastical as fire-breathing dragons, unicorns and WPP hiring someone over 35.

Of course, as humans, we want permanent. We want our IRAs, and our mortgages paid, and college funds for our grandchildren. We want to believe that we have some control over the future and that we can stop the ever-moving, ever-destroying hands of time.

I suppose a lot of the world's current descent into authoritarianism is because so many people see things changing in ways not to their liking as if, we, humans have something to say about that.



If I ever again had to toil within the pre-fab walls of a razor-thin-margined-holding-company agency, I'd get in every morning at 8AM. I'm a believer in going into the office. I'd settle myself in a conference room and I hold court on the idea of long-history--as it applies to our species, and more specifically as it applies to our industry.

I'd talk about how the most successful marketing campaigns in human history, those from nations like the United Kingdom, the United States, most world religions and major brands like Nike, Apple, Fed Ex, the Economist and maybe one or two others, don't do campaigns that last two years, or five or even more a decade. The most successful marketing campaigns last for centuries. I'd guess, and I could be wrong here, that campaigns don't start etching into human consciousness until they last at least five years--after two years, they're not even launched.

We ought to think about things that improve with time, grow with time, last through time. Bernbach called them "simple, timeless human truths."

Not just keeping up with the times.














 


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Five Things I'm Not Thankful For.


ONE:
Legal Lies.

I spent the first 45 years of my life not needing to fill out terms-and-conditions when I sent a note or a thought, got the news, bought something or watched a movie or TV show. When I went to a candy store or the A&P, there was a long lawyer-convoluted set of Jarndyce and Jarndyce prevarications.

Outside of "No shoes, no shirt, no ceviche," life was pretty simple. Now Apple's latest legal disclaimer is 8,154 words long, twenty-two pages of single-spaced type. And according to readable.com, scores a readability letter-grade of D. No shoes, no shirt, no ceviche gets an easy A.



TWO:
"We care-ism."

I'll tell you what I want from companies--and from people. I want you to do your job well and treat the environment and the people who work for you with kindness.

If you make hamburgers, make a good hamburger. Pay your people a living wage. Pour out your rancid grease now and again and clean up your litter, or don't make it in the first place. 

When you've done all that, then you can solve the greater problems of the world.

Until then, be proud of what you do. If you make burgers--make a great one. If you're an ad agency, make great ads. And so on. 
You ain't saving the world. You're trying to get PR as if you're saving the world.

THREE:
Press-releases passing as news.

Press-releases regurgitated by "journalists," and sycophants are all over social media. 

WPP has won more "network of the year" awards than there are networks, or than there have been years. Not a single journalistic organ other than this blog has noted that WPP has shed roughly 45% of its workforce since 2015--from 190,000 people to 100,000 people, its C-suite makes on average 300x the median wage of its employees, and its attrition rate hovers at 40%--meaning every 2 1/2-years they turn-over completely.

If this is the network of the year, the ad industry is in bigger trouble than it even realizes.



FOUR:
Hagiography.

What started as glowing veneration of saints--hagiography, that is glorification passing as biography--has infected our entire world.

The pedestal-ization of Mammon-seeking missiles like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Holmes, Sheryl Sandberg, and about 9-billion others is a sickening display of the triumph of prodigious wealth and power over reason. 

Rich does not equal virtue. We seem to have forgotten those maxims about it being easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to get to have.

Yet, we have given these-eaters-of-the-poor the power to aggrandize themselves with monuments to their "generosity," forgetting that their vast wealth and influence have excused them from paying taxes.

They're the only people in society who get to choose where they send their money--then stick their names in every corner of whatever phallic edifice they donate to. New York has more hospitals with the name David Koch on them than it has stop signs with the letters STOP. Even benevolent Bill Gates and his vaunted foundation would be many times smaller if, he were taxed at the same percentage rate that I am. It's nice that these potentates give their money away. But I'd rather they pay their taxes and then give to charity. 

FIVE:
Culture.

I can't for the life of me understand what it means for an advertisement to be a part of culture. Yet I hear that insipidity so often I question my own sanity.

In today's balkanized, coming-apart world there are almost as many cultures as there are people. It's been about 30 years since I've seen someone represented in a TV commercial who comes from any culture that's as close to mine as a triceratops is to a Porky Pig.

How about doing instead what Bernbach implored--finding simple, timeless, human truths. 

Not banal, temporary fads and trends.

Carl Ally coined the best agency mission statement ever. "To impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way." 

That's good enough for me. And an important enough job. I'll leave culture to others. My job is to make brands understood and likeable so people prefer them. That's hard--don't make it harder by looking at what I do through a culture prism, too. I also don't know what culture means. And I guarantee, my culture is different from yours. In fact, it's different from my wife's. 

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This will be my last post until Monday, November 28. Have a peaceful Thanksgiving. Smile at a stranger. Say please and thank you. And use your turn signals. Small things that could make our world better.