Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Some writer shit.

Not too many years ago the great writer, Robert Caro, took a break from writing volume five of his giant biography on Lyndon Baines Johnson to publish a book called "Working." Like virtually everything Caro does these days, the publication of something by Caro gets almost as much attention--at least in some rarefied circles--as Kim Kardashian getting a new ass-injection.

As you'd guess, "Working" was about how the famously precise and thorough Caro (winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards) works. Not only did I read the book the moment I could get my hands on it, I twice went to hear Caro speak about his book, his career and his discipline.

I'm an advertising writer who has an antiquated view of what advertising can do. That view is based on having been raised on the work of Doyle Dane Bernbach, Ally & Gargano, Ammirati & Puris and Scali, McCabe, Sloves. The best work of those great agencies was based on facts. Their work wasn't adjectival or about flourishes, filigree, decoration and style for style's sake. There was no room for any sparring or dancing. The best of it was a punch between the eyes that you felt in your heart.

As he did so often, Carl Ally said it best, this time whenhe coined the mission for his agency: "To impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way." Bill Bernbach had his spin on essentially the same notion. He believed that the best advertising was "based on simple, timeless, human truths."

[My list above, by the way, is very American--because though I'm a great fan of the greats of English advertising, Hegarty, Abbott, CDP, Trott, I don't have very good recall of their wisdom. Bernbach was the progenitor of all this, so of course I've memorized his words. I worked at Ally & Gargano, and hold words emanating from that agency as a shibboleth.]

Back to Caro.

An ad written by David Fowler.

I read this from his book working. While at Ogilvy, I published it in this space, and my great co-worker David Fowler ran over to my desk to give me a spiritual hug. 

It's a good feeling when you discover you're not alone. 

Caro's line is this, it comes from his first journalistic experience, when he was working on his school paper at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx: 
“I always had this desire, and I don’t know where it comes from, to find out how things work and explain them to people.”

To find out how things work and explain them to people.

On first blush, this belief may work better for technologies or cars or banking products. Complicated things that are more rational and thoughtful than, say, M&Ms or frozen pizza or hair gel.

That caveat is fine, if that's the way you want to be. But I think that interpretation is parochial. The best candy advertising, for instance, Starburst or Snickers, really talks about what those silly multi-billion brands do for people.

The line is relevant to almost all communication. Not just Quantum computers, the hybrid cloud or a braking system.

My guess is if you respect people, you'll find out how things work--everything from diapers to the soul of a company--you'll take the time and do the work and explain why.

Every day--yes, every day--I hear about 90 million voices seemingly in unison swearing to make everything from Swiffer to room-freshener part of culture. 

It might cost me business to say this aloud, but I don't even know what becoming part of culture means. My culture isn't your culture and I've yet to buy a car, tv, computer or a pair of jeans that's a part of culture. Or spent $500 for a pair of tickets to view the culture of Tropicana orange juice in a special performance at Lincoln Center.

I run an agency now.

I'll leave integration with culture to someone else.

If you have a garden tool, a shelving system, a security technology, I'll explain them to people. Not so they become engineers. But so they want your product.

That's what this is about.

Convincing the mind so you love with your heart.

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