Friday, July 29, 2022

People-ing in Harlem.

The world spinning off its axis is nothing new. When it was doing so about one-hundred years ago, I heard a story. It popped once again into my head as I was taking the twenty-miles-per-hour Amtrak train into Manhattan from my rickety cottage on the Gingham Coast.

Back then when I was told the story--life was maybe every bit as frightening as it is today. We might look at the 70s with rose-colored Oculus VR glasses, but in fact, the Soviets had 10,000 nuclear warheads aimed at the United States. And we had 10,000 aimed at them. 

Virtually every town with a public library and a post office had their designated nuke. Richard Nixon was brazenly subverting the Constitution. The National Guard killed four students on a college campus. And one-thousand young boys were being killed each week in Vietnam. Not to mention rampant drugs and street crime as the rule, not the exception.

My best friend back then, when we were 14 or 15, told me the story. It had been told to him by his father, who was a New York City police officer when New York City was one of the most dangerous places on earth.

"My father arrested these guys," my friend Fred told me, "for 'people-ing.'"

We were likely at school and playing basketball or stoop ball as Fred told me the story. Telling a story when you're doing something else is one of the sublime pleasures of civilization. You're not speeding your way through the tale. Sentences might be coming your way every thirty seconds or so, between jump shots and rebounds.

I'd guess that's the way stories were told many millennia ago, when tired men and women sat on the stumps of felled trees, gazed at the stars, poked at the communal fire and listened to blind Homer singing of Agamenom placating the gods by slitting his daughter Iphigenia's soft, white trachea and hoping for a favoring wind.

"People-ing?" I stupided.

"People-ing," Fred said. "My father told me about two guys on 125th Street in Harlem, in one of the offices on the second floor of those old storefronts. Those old buildings, six stories high, 95-percent abandoned."

"Yeah," I added for no ostensible reason but to show I was tracking.

"They stuck a dollar bill to a fishing hook, a big hook. Then lowered the hook by fishing rod to just seven or eight feet above sidewalk level."

Fred took another shot and swished it. He was an all-county small forward. He got his own rebound and swished it again--a little backward flip like Dr. J.

"People would see the dollar and leap up to grab it."

"They didn't question why?"

"No. Would you? They just saw it and leapt for it. If the guys with the fishing poles timed it right, they'd yank the dollar away and rip open someone's palm with the hook."

"Nice," I added.

"Not that different from the mischief you and I would do, if our mean-streaks were better developed. My father had to run them in. They were probably released in under an hour."

After that, we shot some more baskets or we washed up and ran to class. But though it's been about fifty years, I never quite forgot the tale.

Especially since I've spent forty of the last fifty years in advertising. Where it seems so many companies, so many politicians, so many so-called friends, dangle promises in front of you then yank them away at the last moment.

Maybe this is the way of the world.

If you're lucky, nothing more than your hand is cut open.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Ding-Dongs of Doom.

This will be a complicated post. One in which I'll jump around through centuries and thoughts like a flea on a hot tin dog. I apologize ahead of time.

At the dawn of humankind, we didn't really have divisions of labor. Everybody had to do mostly everything. 

If you were a subsistence farmer, as most people were, you had to do almost everything on your farm. If something needed repairing, you probably figured it out yourself. 

As life on our planet got more advanced, we saw more specialization. Some of that came from farmers being able to grow surpluses. That freed labor to specialize in other tasks.

In Europe, at least, Guilds were eventually formed. There might be one for carpenters, for bookbinders, for shoe-makers and so on. If you were a farmer, you might have to bring in a doctor of sorts to help your cow give birth. You might hire someone to help you build a barn or repair a thresher.

In the early years of the machine age, we still operated under the aegis of guild-thinking. A group of workers might assemble an entire car engine. Coachmakers would make a body. Leather workers, the upholstery.

As time moved on, life kept changing. Industrialists like Henry Ford, and Industrial Management Scientists like Frederick Winslow Taylor, made a study of work. They soon discovered that much efficiency could be gained if large tasks were broken down into smaller pieces. Also, breaking large tasks down to smaller pieces reduced their reliance on skilled labor. Very few people can make an engine. Almost everyone can tighten a screw three turns.

Specialization of tasks made making things simpler, more uniform and cheaper. Unskilled labor is always cheaper than skilled labor. A craftsman like Duncan Phyfe or Gustav Stickley would command a higher wage than someone like you or I who can barely put together something made by Ikea.

I've noticed a similar dynamic over my forty or so years in the advertising industry. Whereas creative people once learned about the brands they worked on, took factory tours, talked to clients and customers, and did extensive (if unscientific research) creative people today have much more limited roles.

There are creatives who do nothing but TV. Others do nothing but site work. Others do primarily site navigation. Very few creatives--even at the creative director level--have deep understanding of their brands, the products they make, the competitive set and market dynamics. 

My guess is you could count the number of creatives who read industry trade magazines on one hand. I remember working for Montgomery Ward when I was 21 and reading "Footwear News." When I worked on IBM, I think I was the only person in the agency who read the Wall Street Journal--a newspaper that probably devotes one page in five to the tech industry.

The task of creating an ad--no matter what sort of ad--has become infinitely more complex and, more strikingly, more divisible. There are many more people involved than there used to be, each completing a smaller and smaller part of the larger task. There are writers, art directors, social strategists, brand strategists, motion designers, brand planners, coders and more. All for a mobile ad the size, roughly of a postage stamp.

What's more, as tasks have gotten smaller and more rigidly defined, workers--that's you and me--like the workers above who spent their days tightening screw after screw--became less connected to their jobs. A basil cruncher cares less about the marinara than a sauce-maker.

It's a weird way to run a business. It's like not being a writer but instead being an expert in the "k." Your job has very little to do with the finished product and anyone can do it.  Why should you sweat bullets over it? Why should you care?

Once workers become interchangeable, once they're treated as an interchangeable part, they become estranged or alienated from both their jobs and their employers.

More people doing smaller tasks with less influence on the eventual outcome or the finished product is not a good formula for success. Why should it be? The masses of unskilled labor making the product have little or no responsibility for the totality of the product.

I could be wrong.

But it seems like people who work and the entities that employ them are at essentially cross-purposes. Workers want work with meaning. Employers want workers that are cheap, the work they're charged with doing is, therefore, without psychic recompense.

This point of view about advertising might be wrong.

This point of view about industrialization might be wrong.

But this seems to be the way our industry has matured.
Or rotted.

It seems like we don't care what we make. As long as we make it. Cheaply.

I know the Holding Companies are now ginning up their stock prices by announcing increases in revenue. That's the news they dole out to an unquestioning press. No one seems to be questioning, reductions in force (WPP has shed about 15% of its employees over the last couple of years) and their woeful margins. The Holding Companies are strip mining what's left of the industry. Taking the wealth out of the mountain. They'll leave with nothing but slag left.

In my opinion, you're not hearing a cash-register ca-chinging.

No, that's a death knoll.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Social is Telling Us Something.

I know people way smarter than I, neuroscientists and the like, study the design and symbols of the web and figure out what sort of colors and signs incite human response. It's no coincidence that your heart races a bit when you see the little red something-or-other indicating you have mail, or messages, or likes or some sort.

There's no equivalent in print or broadcast media because messaging on those channels isn't continuously updated. It's mass, in a sense, not ego-derived.

Of course, there is dumbness to online media that often makes me want to throw my Mac through the nearest plate glass. What sort of "intelligent" algorithm--and tracking software that supposedly knows my every synapse, would think for even the firing of a single neuron that I would be interested in any of the "news items" I've pasted above. It's hard for me to be the least bit sanguine about the future of our species and civilization itself if those are the things that concern us, or even, entertain us.

However for all that, from an advertising point of view, there is absolute brilliance to be found online. If agency people, clients, procurement and anyone vaguely associated with marketing thought of marketing with this in mind, marketing--and the messages marketing created--would be much more well-liked, much more effective and would work much harder.

When I see a bad ad on, say, LinkedIn it annoys me much more than any newspaper or magazine ad ever did. I don't know why that is, it just is. 

Maybe ads in printed journals are easier to skip or ignore. Maybe because they were often very expensive to place, marketers were a bit more careful and caring with them. Of course regardless of the media, 98-percent of all ads show attractive people grinning like idiots holding up a credit card, a fabric softener, or a sunscreen. Sometimes all three at once. But somehow, seeing those things while I'm scrolling irks me more.

Here's today's lesson.

Some social sites let you tell an algorithm when an ad annoys you. Nothing actually changes in your feed. You'll still get the offending ad as often as you had, but in true zuckeronian evil, the viewer is given the gauzy nothing of having actual control.

But real control isn't the point.

The point is online media--someone or some bot at some Silicon Valley data-thieving corporation, understands what people actually think of ads. They give you some options when you're force-fed them.

If you click on this,

you get to this:

If I still worked in an agency, I would have those two rectangles above blown up to billboard size, say a genuine 14'x48' and I'd mount them in every conference room in my building. I also have them as page two, after the cover page, and the next-to-last page after the obligatory "thank you!" in every insincere deck.

Those images aren't pretty. They're scary.

They're a reminder that no one wants to see your ad. If your ad doesn't give the viewer something in return for her attention, it will be unwanted.

Our job as marketing practitioners is to provide viewers with useful information in an executionally brilliant way.

That is, help viewers learn something, help them feel something. God forbid, make them laugh.

That should be the simplest portion of the equation that links the teller and the tellee. If what you're saying isn't of value, people will reject you.

As they should.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Humans. Versus Machines.

Many many years ago, I reached the tippiest top of an agency.

Unfortunately, it was an agency run by consultants and analytics people.

They kept me around as comic relief. So when a client asked for creative, they had someone around who could say something unusual or funny or both.

When I started in the business, there was something published once or twice a year called the "Standard Directory of Advertising Agencies." In the days before the web, in the days when every agency in the world wasn't owned by one of four or five giant ponzi holding companies, this book was very handy.

Not only did it provide complete listings of every agency that was a member of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, they listed key personnel and key accounts. Often, if you liked data, they had a break down like 51% of revenue came from TV, 22% from print, 8% from outdoor and so on. 

If you were looking for a job, you could find a place you might set your sights on. A place that had the kind of accounts and did the sort of work you were looking to do.

Most important, you could see the names at the top of the masthead. If there were three names and they were all account guys, you could glean from that that the agency was account led. You could also see there were a dozen or so decent-sized agencies where the key personnel were creative people. Agencies like Ammirati & Puris, Scali McCabe Sloves, Levine Huntly, Ally Gargano, Messner Berger and many others I'm sure I'm forgetting.

When I worked at the aforementioned place, it was all consultants. Though I was at the top, I had the same weight and power as an organ-grinder's monkey. I could dance to the music and people might throw quarters at me, but I was very much on a tether and put into a box at the end of the day.

One thing I discovered quickly is that most of the consultant type managers in the business--that's roughly everyone today running an agency, hates creative.

Hate, here, is not too strong a word.

The creative people were not like them. They couldn't understand why they dressed badly, didn't shave, failed to think in a linear matter and were unpredictable. 

They hated creative because creativity is the great uncontrollable in the advertising industry, an industry which is today more about delivering shareholder value than value to its clients. 

The consultants running things don't like crap shoots. They speak the language of A-B tests and research. They've been trained in their MBA programs to believe in case-studies, precedent and if-then propositions. Anything that isn't as orderly as those mechanical operations, they reject almost categorically. 

Think of these agency heads as prison wardens. They don't like people or processes that threaten them, that they can't rely on, that they can't control. So they lock them up and dehumanize them.

When I look at TV today, or see ads in my various social feeds, I see rectangles with absolutely nothing appealing in them. There is nothing that catches your eye. There is nothing that makes you smile. There is nothing that makes you think. Makes you a promise, much less a reason to believe.

I've sat in enough meetings where ads like the ads above get approved, even applauded. 

They tick all the boxes.

They say just what the people who control the money in an agency and the clients think they should say for maximum vomitous effect. 

When these ads don't work, which invariably they won't, somebright analyst will roll out a big $700,000 research deck that proves the efficacy of such-and-such technique. They'll redo the ads incorporating that technique and again they won't work (because they're boring) and it will probably be time to fire 34 creatives for not being creative enough or for hearkening back to a time when advertising did work.

If you get enough distance from most things, you can break them down pretty easily. You can determine why they succeeded or why they failed.

You can do this when looking at the architecture in a public space, a painting in a museum, a tv show or movie or a song. Even a TV commercial.

The ones that fail usually have something in common. As do the ones that succeed.

Work that fails usually hates people. It treats them without consideration and respect. It takes them for granted and shouts at them until they either submit or disappear. 

Work that succeeds is usually the opposite. It's built on human understanding, consideration and respect. It is kind to people.

About twice a week these days, someone posts something about AI-derived messaging and such. They write about how AI will eliminate all creative jobs and machines, because of their speed and precision will eliminate all of our few remaining jobs.

I worry about a lot of things in this world.

But I don't worry about my job being done-in by AI.

I've yet to get an emotion from an algorithm. I've yet to go to a nightclub to hear a routine by a stand-up computer.

As my wife said when I quit the job I described above. "You made one mistake."


"You went to work for consultants and you thought they were humans."

Monday, July 25, 2022

Drauga and Arta.

There's a lot that rubs my goat the wrong way about the contemporary world. 

Top among the thousand or so things I could list off the top of my head, barely pausing to take a breath or peel myself another grape are three items.

1. Liars.

3. Bullies.

2. People Who Have No Sense of History.

4. People Who Are Really Bad at Numbering Things.

The first two on my list, Liars and Bullies, often go together. In my mind, they are best exemplified by trump, trumpism and trump's millions of enablers. (Enablers is probably too kind a word--co-traitors would be better.)

Over the past few weeks, the Liars who have really angered me are the Liars of WPP. Their lies are propagated with impunity these days because, outside of perhaps this blog and Bob Hoffman's newsletters, there is no longer an investigative press, much less an adversarial one. Most of what I read in Ad Age, Adweek and Agency Spy are rehashed press releases that accept the pablum they are spoon-fed by the dirty spoons held by the propagandists and Liars.

Specifically, Ogilvy winning network of the year. Then VMLY&R winning a similar award. 

From my understanding, Ogilvy New York's office has literally been decimated, going from approximately 2,500 people five years ago to one-tenth that today. I'm not even sure, if you were being scrupulous, with such a record, your agency should be eligible for agency-of-the-block.

Additionally, for all the bombast the agencies sling about diversity, equity and inclusion, of course, no one asks--or investigates--what sort of expenditure they make toward those efforts and how it compares to the multi-millions they spend on awards. And of course, just 2% of WPP people are over 60 years old. That's one-eleventh of what it would be if they hired according to population distribution.

But, as always, I digress.

The real point of my post today is number 2 on my list or number 3, depending on my number 4.

Not long ago, I started reading "The Persians," by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones. Like so much of what I read, the book was reviewed in the cheery, neo-fascist Wall Street Journal to veritable raves. Reading the review--book reviews are a shortcut to gaining an eclectic core of information--it hurt me to realize how little I know--and how Westernized is my understanding of our species' time on this burning orb. I didn't want to read this book. As a citizen of the world, I had to.

The Persians were writing literature, building civilization, roads and practicing diversity while the people of Europe were living in caves, painting themselves blue and buggering oxen. Yet our Western orientation keeps us ignorant of the greatness of that ancient culture.

About 100 pages in, I got to Darius.

Darius the Great.

Or Darius the Usurper.

Or Darius the Double Regicide.

But mostly, Darius the ad man. He left behind tributes to himself, telling of his power, the glory of his reign and the vastness of his doman.

The Persians had two words it would be nice to remember today.

Drauga was Lies.

Arta was Truth.

Those words, lie and honest, had deeper meanings than we employ today in the west. They were DNA-level markers of your soul.

Llewellyn-Smith writes, 

"To be a Liar was to be a traitor and a heretic. Drauga was the opposite of Arta or ‘Truth’, a rich theological concept which meant order, justice, stability, and allegiance. To be Truthful was to be loyal to the crown and faithful to god. In the binary world of Persian theological thought, Drauga and Arta were polar opposites. The Lie was implicitly the opposite of the Truth and both the Truth and the Lie were interlocked in a nexus of cosmic power struggles. Both terms belonged equally to the political and the religious domains, which were inseparable in the Persian mind. In spite of the many falsehoods that permeate the Bisitun Inscription, Darius always presents himself as a man who does not lie..."

From 2600 years ago, commissioned by Darius, 
the Bitsitun inscription is carved 100-meters high 
on a cliff in the Kermanshah region of Western Iran.

I realize that today, the world is not as morally binary as it was during the reign of Darius, almost 2600 years ago. We accept shades of grey and nuance. And there is very little wholly-bad or wholly-good. The are extenuating circumstances that allow us to rationalize behaviors that are destroying our planet, our nation, even our industry. And as Sammy Glick said in Budd Schulberg's great novel of lies and deception, "What Makes Sammy Run?" "Why tell the truth when you can lie?"


Why tell the truth?

If you're an agency or a brand, why bother.

Sales, stock-prices, your personal wealth will be so much greater if you embrace your inner Drauga as a corporate and personal ethic, eschewing Arta like it's a badly-timed farta.

If you're a Viktor Frankl-ite like I am, you quickly come to realize that your life really has no meaning. 

You won't make a difference. Nor will your children. You will leave no mark, no legacy. No one will "Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!"

But, whether it makes sense or not our lack of meaning is our meaning. Even though the whole world is cut and bleeding like it's been shaved like a drunken barber, that's why you have to tell the truth, that's why you have to strive for goodness, personal peace, honesty and morality.

I realize this post is more than a little inchoate. And not what most people bargain for when they stop by to read a bit of tripe on advertising.

Somehow, I'm reminded of this story, apocryphal or not.

There's a nearly dead Jew in a death camp.

A guard sees him praying. He hits the Jew with his knout. "What are you doing, Jew?" He taunts.

The nearly dead Jew looks at the guard. Maybe their eyes meet.

"I'm thanking god," the Jew says.

The guard laughs. "You will die any minute. You have lice, dysentery and typhus. You weigh less than 70 pounds. You have no hope of escape or release. What could you be thanking god for?"

"I'm thanking god that he didn't make me like you."

That's all.


A bit of the Bitsitun:

[1.1] I (am) Darius, the great king, the king of kings, the king in Persia, the king of countries, the son of Hystaspes, the grandson of Arsames, the Achaemenide.

[1.2] Says Darius the king: My father (is) Hystaspes, the father of Hystaspes (is) Arsames, the father of Arsames (is) Ariaramnes, the father of Ariaramnes (is Teispes), the father of Teispes (is) Achaemenes.

[1.3] Says Darius the king: Therefore, we are called the Achaemenides; from long ago we have extended; from long ago our family have been kings.

[1.4] Says Darius the king: 8 of my family (there were) who were formerly kings; I am the ninth (9); long aforetime we were (lit. are) kings.

[1.5] Says Darius the king: By the grace of Auramazda I am king; Auramazda gave me the kingdom.

[1.6] Says Darius the king: These are the countries which came to me; by the grace of Auramazda I became king of them; Persia, Susiana, BabyloniaAssyriaArabia, Egypt, the (lands) which are on the sea, Sparda, Ionia, [Media], Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, BactriaSogdiana, Ga(n)dara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arachosia, Maka; in all (there are) 23 countries.

[1.7] Says Darius the king: These (are) the countries which came to me; by the grace of Auramazda they became subject to me; they bore tribute to me; what was commanded to them by me this was done night and (lit. or) day.

[1.8] Says Darius the king: Within these countries what man was watchful, him who should be well esteemed I esteemed; who was an enemy, him who should be well punished I punished; by the grace of Auramazda these countries respected my laws; as it was commanded by me to them, so it was done.

[1.9] Says Darius the king: Auramazda gave me this kingdom; Auramazda bore me aid until I obtained this kingdom; by the grace of Auramazda I hold this kingdom.

[1.10] Says Darius the king: This (is) what (was) done by me after that I became king; Cambyses by name, the son of Cyrus (was) of our family; he was king here; of this Cambyses there was a brother Bardiya (i. e. Smerdis) by name possessing a common mother and the same father with Cambyses; afterwards Cambyses slew that Bardiya; when Cambyses slew Bardiya, it was not known to the people that Bardiya was slain; afterwards Cambyses went to Egypt; when Cambyses went to Egypt, after that the people became hostile; after that there was Deceit to a great extent in the provinces, both in Persia and in Media and in the other provinces.

[1.11] Says Darius the king: Afterwards there was one man, a Magian, Gaumata by name; he rose up from Paishiyauvada; there (is) a mountain Arakadrish by name; from there - 14 days in the month Viyakhna were in course when he rose up; he thus deceived the people [saying) “I am Bardiya the son of Cyrus brother of Cambyses”; afterwards all the people became estranged from Cambyses (and) went over to him, both Persia and Media and the other provinces; he seized the kingdom; 9 days in the month Garmapada were in course - he thus seized the kingdom; afterwards Cambyses died by a self-imposed death.

[1.12] Says Darius the king: This kingdom which Gaumata the Magian took from Cambyses, this kingdom from long ago was (the possession) of our family; afterwards Gaumata the Magian took from Cambyses both Persia and Media and the other provinces; he seized (the power) and made it his own possession; he became king.

[1.13] Says Darius the king: There was not a man neither a Persian nor a Median nor any one of our family who could make Gaumata the Magian deprived of the kingdom; the people feared his tyranny; (they feared) he would slay the many who knew Bardiya formerly; for this reason he would slay the people; "that they might not know me that I am not Bardiya the son of Cyrus;" any one did not dare to say anything against Gaumata the Magian until I came; afterwards I asked Auramazda for help; Auramazda bore me aid; 10 days in the month Bagayadish were in course I thus with few men slew that Gaumata the Magian and what men were his foremost allies; there (is) a stronghold Sikayauvatish by name; there is a province in Media, Nisaya by name; here I smote him; I took the kingdom from him; by the grace of Auramazda I became king; Auramazda gave me the kingdom.

[1.14] Says Darius the king: The kingdom which was taken away from our family, this I put in (its) place; I established it on (its) foundation; as (it was) formerly so I made it; the sanctuaries which Gaumata the Magian destroyed I restored; for the people the revenue(?) and the personal property and the estates and the royal residences which Gaumata the Magian took from them (I restored); I established the state on (its) foundation, both Persia and Media and the other provinces; as (it was) formerly, so I brought back what (had been) taken away; by the grace of Auramazda this I did; I labored that our royal house I might establish in (its) place; as (it was) formerly, so (I made it); I labored by the grace of Auramazda that Gaumata the Magian might not take away our royal house.

[1.15] Says Darius the king: This (is) what I did, after that I became king.

[1.16] Says Darius the king: When I slew Gaumata the Magian, afterwards there (was) one man Atrina by name, the son of Upadara(n)ma; he rose up in Susiana; thus he said to the people; I am king in Susiana; afterwards the people of Susiana became rebellious (and) went over to that Atrina; he became king in Susiana; and there (was) one man a Babylonian Nidintu-Bel by name, the son of Aniri', he rose up in Babylon; thus he deceived the people; I am Nebuchadrezzar the son of Nabu-na'id; afterwards the whole of the Babylonian state went over to that Nidintu-Bel; Babylon became rebellious; the kingdom in Babylon he seized.

[1.17] Says Darius the king: Afterwards I sent forth (my army) to Susiana; this Atrina was led to me bound; I slew him.

[1.18] Says Darius the king: Afterwards I went to Babylon against that Nidintu-Bel who called himself Nebuchadrezzar; the army of Nidintu-Bel held the Tigris; there he halted and thereby was a flotilla; afterwards I placed my army on floats of skins; one part I set on camels, for the other I brought horses; Auramazda bore me aid; by the grace of Auramazda we crossed the Tigris; there the army of Nidintu-Bel I smote utterly; 26 days in the month Atriyadiya were in course - we thus engaged in battle.

[1.19] Says Darius the king: Afterwards I went to Babylon; when I had not [yet] reached Babylon - there (is) a town Zazana by name along the Euphrates - there this Nidintu-Bel who called himself Nebuchadrezzar went with his army against me to engage in battle; afterwards we engaged in battle; Auramazda bore me aid; by the grace of Auramazda the army of Nidintu-Bel I smote utterly; the enemy were driven into the water; the water bore them away; 2 days in the month Anamaka were in course - we thus engaged in battle.

Friday, July 22, 2022


In the heat of the Mexican sun at the height or the depths of summer, it is said by the old people, many of whom know even more than the young people, that the heat will burn the eyelids off the eyes of the iguana and that even rocks seek the shade they can get from other rocks.

I have never seen a rock migrate toward the shade like the petals of a cactus flower opening its face toward the sun, but just because I have not seen it, just because I have not with my own eyes viewed it, does not mean that rocks don't creep tectonically to find protection from the withering heat in the shade of some ingenious igneous.

Hundreds of years ago, or thousands, when explorers or shepherds or farmers high in the mountains and many days' walk from the sea would find thousands of feet above the alluvial valleys the bones of long-ago sea creatures, those who know know that all creatures from rocks to the lowest baseball player in the Mexican Baseball League look to find an escape from being burnt alive from a sun as unrelenting as the tides.

The sun was an enemy and so was the league itself. The league that built the schedule of the long baseball season. The league that would have you play fourteen games in three cities over the course of twelve days. All under that sun that cracked your skin like an egg falling high from a nest onto the hard earth.

Over fourteen games in three cities in twelve days my spine bent, my arms lengthened, I stooped like a Neanderthal with a Warner Brothers' cartoon tongue, scraping the ground as I walked to and from third base to the dugout and back again.

My swing was as jerky as a cheap wind-up toy. The limited stiff-legged range I already had at the hot corner was chopped by a third or a half or three-quarters or more. My arm was a marionette with a broken string. But still.

Still fourteen games in three cities in twelve days with the sun as cruel as a billy club.

I caught a pop-up to end the next to last inning of the last game. I walked in from behind third base to our dugout, slowing down to roll the ball toward the mound for their pitcher to throw. We were in the hole--down by two runs, and had three outs only to make up the deficit. 

I don't remember who we were playing. It didn't much matter then, and it matters a million times less today, half a century later. I sloughed my glove off like I was swatting a giant fly and it landed on the narrow shelf behind the wooden bench in the dugout, in the open seat to the right of my manager Hector Quetzacoatl Padilla, whom I had renamed Hector Quesadilla.

"Jorge," he whispered. "I have seen something from their arm. He drops his shoulder when he throws a bender. He telegraphs it."

I was done with the game at that point, almost too tired to even watch. But Hector repeated himself as their pitcher loosened.

"Look at his arm. Look at the shoulder. Look at the curve."

"Adame," I shouted. "Look at his arm. Look how he drops it."

Adame looked at me like I was stupid. Hector repeated the advice. 

"Brutus," I yelled down the bench. "Look. He drops his arm when he throws the curve." 

As quick as one-two, Adame and Brutus went up to bat and swung like they were swatting flies and came back to the bench. We had two down, quicker than death.

"They do not listen," I said to Hector.

"They do not hear. They have come all this way to lose."

"Lose quick," I said, "And we can sleep."

"We can sleep better if we quickly win, too."

Garibay popped up too after just two pitches, and the game was done. The fourteen games in three cities in twelve days were over.

We grabbed our things and shuffled to the locker room. Our spikes scraped against the concrete of the floor of the old stadium. I half expected to see small sparks fly like when a broken muffler is dragged along the asphalt.

Hector and I, sitting at the far end of the dugout, were the last to make it into the locker room. Hector stopped me before we entered the ramp to the hallway.

"Adame, Brutus, Garibay. They did not listen."

"Do they ever?" I asked.

We started shuffling again.

"It is not enough to pay attention," Hector said. "Anyone can pay attention."

"They did not pay attention to what you noticed. They might have hit the ball if they had. At least Garibay."

"You are right," Hector said. 

We continued to the locker room. Though the team was tired and we just lost another game, the mood was not bad. There was laughter from the showers and some singing. 

Freddy Fender was playing on the radio, singing "Desde Que Conozco." Some of the boys were standing in small groups in their sliding pads and drinking cold beers, tapping the tall brown bottles to the backbeat.

"It is one thing to pay attention," Hector said. "But the real trick is something else."

"Jorge!" Isael Buentello yelled to me. The bottle he threw my way spun end-over-end and I caught it by its neck.

"Gracas," I said, slurring the word, eliding syllables, not like they taught us in high school Spanish.

I cracked the cap off and the suds spilled out like champagne, sticky with thick foam. I offered Hector the first swig.

"It's not enough to pay attention," Hector said. "You must do more. You must pay attention to what you pay attention to." 

We had two nights off after that. 

Two nights of rest. 

I paid attention to all of it.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Eating Innards.

I had dinner on Friday night with some friends. Unusual for me for a couple of reasons.

One, I'm most often in solitary confinement up on the Gingham Coast of Connecticut. And two, I don't have that many friends. Certainly not that many friends I'm willing to have dinner with.

We all had done well in the agency business. All had done well but we all, for one reason or another had been thrown out. Either we got fired like I did. Or we got fed up and left. Or we looked at a bloodied limb or a scarred soul and said 'sotto voce,' "this is sufficient."

In any event, we were on the other side now. Not the outside looking in. That's too kind to where we were. The outside--and smarter than Lot's wife, smarter than Orpheus, not looking back after Eurydice, not looking back at where we were. 

Not looking back at the mean concrete rigidity of hierarchy and ego and ass-kissery and protocol and who's threatened by you and who, because the agency business today is a Zero Sum game and if you get someone else doesn't, so they must therefore keep you dumb, mute, bedraggled and in irons.

There's something wrong with the way our business works. The way our country works. The way work works.

The nit-picking. 

The 21 mandatories.

The demands.

The 'you-musts.'

The 'this-is-the-way-we've-always-done-its.'

So much is so Soviet. So repressed. So limiting. So taking the approximately 1400 grams of your brain and allowing you to use about 300 grams for thinking, 300 for obeying squashing rules and the remaining 800 for paranoia.

An agency network I used to love--a network that sold itself to the maximize-profits minimize-cost devil has, at least in the New York office has, gone from about 2500 people when I re-joined them in 2014 to fewer than 300 today.

Yet when they bang their false-bottomed drum and proclaim themselves winners in every award show trumped-up and under the warm French sun, another shard of honesty, another ember of truth, another sliver of humanity dies.

Almost two thousand years ago, in the Sasanian empire, millions of people followed the Parthian god, Manichea, or Mani.

His was a religion where there was an eternal battle between the ethereal, goodness and light and the material, evil and darkness. Manichaeism was once the dominant religion of the west. And maybe it is once again during our un-nuanced and riven era.

There is much darkness in our industry.

But it doesn't have to be.




Be good. Be yourself. Be a fly in the ugly oppressive ointment of corporate Serfdom 2.0.

Just know that there are people out there who for decades had been gutted like a mackerel by a lonely Mexican fisherman on an algaed jetty. Their innards thrown to the squawking gulls and picked over like your soul.

Like Prometheus and his regenerating liver, they have found an outside. Found a way to return to the non-zombied living.

Not easy.

But doable.

Workers of the world, Un-tie. 
You have nothing to lose but your Squash.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Fractal and Lonely.

According to Zuckerberg, I have about 1,500 friends.

According to whoever runs things at Twitter, I'm followed by about 5,000 people.

And my LinkedIn coterie puts me in a league with televangelists, Gary Vaynerchuk or other snake-oil salesmen. (Which isn't really fair to snakes.)

But like most people, at least most people in our office-less age, I have long, losing bouts of loneliness. 

Much of the work I do now is of the solo ilk. And at times I feel, if it weren't for Whiskey, my ten-year-old golden retriever, and my surpassingly patient wife, Laura, I'd go weeks, if not months without speaking to anyone approaching sentience.

When I lived as a bachelor in San Francisco for ten months, that was my life. I had no friends outside of work. I don't socialize. And the kibbitz culture New Yorkers embrace is unknown west of the Hudson. People don't joke with people. And jokes, at least to me who uses humor as a currency, are my life.

That's life up here in Connecticut. A little laugh-and-life-less, he lisped.

I see friends on occasion. Ex-CCOs and I meet at a coffee shop near a strip mall under high-tension wires in the shadow of a broken-down Staples. But those small moments of uplift are scant recompense for having people around.

Enter Ad Aged.

The other day Wil Boudreau called me.

Jeff Eaker messaged me.

My some-time-partner Sid Tomkins, called me.

Debra Fried texted me up.

My friend, Maya Goldberg and I exchanged little bits of smiles and laughter.

Rob Schwartz is a constant source of light.

The hundreds of notes and comments I get even when I post something slight and allegedly funny.

All over this stupid blog that started as a spit-take on the woes of the advertising world.

And now, for me, it's something more. It brings with it a welcome, non-pharma set of side-effects. 

It's a place to find kinship. To rekindle. To say hi. To say WITT (We're In This Together.) It's a place in a hugless and smileless world to encounter digital hugs and smiles.

It's funny how things go sometimes. Especially things that you do with regularity. They start off one way and grow into something else. You never really know, no one does, how they'll develop or if they will. It's a little like planting a bean when you're a kid and one day finding a beanstalk.

That's all to say, "thank you."

Thank you to this blog for letting me write it.

Thank you to my wife for letting me have a bit of quiet when I need it.

Thank you to my friends--those I know and those I don't--for your bits and bobs of encouragement. 

Thank you to my readers, 96-percent of whom I'll never meet.

Thank you for breaking something.

My loneliness.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Is this the greatest ad of all time?

There are a lot of ways to look at advertising. Ninety-nine out of one hundred of them are dead wrong.

Blowhards of nearly every stripe ramble on about advertising on nearly every channel. Holding Company CEOs prattle on about customization, programmatic, data acuity and, of course, borderless creativity.

It goes on and on. Just turn on the tube and watch what's sent your way. Commercial after commercial extolling how great this brand or that brand is. Avalanches of arrogance. Paroxysms of pomposity. An operatic egotism that sings ME ME ME instead of you you you. A you based on your needs, on empathy, not pandering.

What has been forgotten along the way is who brands are in business for. 

Carl Ally used to say that "advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." You can argue with that all you like. But at least one thing in it is vital. Advertising isn't about the speaker, it's about the viewer. How the brand/company/product/service/promise/whatever serves you.

Why should I care? 

Not to be or not to be.

That is the advertising question. 

The question every client, every agency big wig, every holding company mogul, every planner, every creative must keep as a frontlet before her eyes. If the viewer doesn't care, your message doesn't matter. 

Our role of ad people isn't to be the "voice of the brand." It's to be the "champion of the viewer." Helping him or her see the benefits and efficacy of what you're advertising.

A lot of this may be moot now.

America's economic model, like its political framework, is monopoly or oligopoly based. Competition for most of what we buy has all but vanished.

We get our cable from just one company. We have a choice or three phone carriers. Four airlines. Four banks. Two political parties. 

With no real competition, no one really has to give a shit about anything but maximizing their own profit. I'd love to not have my cable through xFinity. I'd love never to have to fly on United or American or Delta. I'd love to not use Verizon, AT&T or Sprint. But there is really no alternative.

Same with the modern agency "ecosystem." Many potential clients seem to believe that have just three choices or four. Service, pricing, quality is all pretty much the same--miserable. And who cares anyway.

Read the copy in the ad above. 

I'll type it out for you, so you can keep it on your hard-drive. I'm not changing a word, not even a linebreak. I'm arrogant but not that arrogant.

If I were a CEO, I'd send this to my CMO and say, "We're doing it wrong." 

If I were a CMO, I'd sent this to my ad agency and say "We're doing it wrong." 

If I were a potential client, I'd call GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company and say, "We're doing it wrong. Can you help us right things?"

In other words, what's our promise to people. How can we help you? What can we do for you? Why should you care?

Advertising needs to do two things to really be effective. It has to connect with people. They have to care and believe you care about them. And it has to provide truth.

That's why you should care. 


Avis needs you.
You don't need Avis.
Avis never forgets this.

"We're still a little hungry.

We're only No. 2 in rent a cars.

Customers aren't a dime a dozen
to us.

Sometimes, when business is too
good, they get the short end and aren't
treated like customers anymore.

Wouldn't you like the novel experience of walking 
up to a counter and not feel you're bothering somebody?

Try it.

Come to the Avis counter and rent a new, lively super-
torque Ford. Avis is only No. 2 in rent a cars. So we have
to try harder to make our customers feel like customers.

Our counters all have two sides.

And we know which side our bread is buttered on.