Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Industry's Psychiatrist.

As America, and the world, become more and more nationalistic, and even, Xenophobic, I've noticed that a lot of sports teams give themselves monikers to elevate their importance. In so doing, they "otherize" other teams and locales.

So, for instance, some years ago the Dallas Cowboys began calling themselves "America's Team." I think the New York Yankees might do the same. The Red Sox, too. And maybe Notre Dame University. 

I don't know anything about futbol or real football as played outside or these disunited states, but I see a lot in my various feeds about Arsenal and Man U and Barcelona, so I'd imagine this phenomenon is today somewhat universal.

Over the last 6,500 blog posts or so, I've been very open about my 27-year relationship with my psychiatrist. I'll call him here, Owen. Not revealing any more of his identity in the interest of his privacy and patient-doctor confidentiality in general.

Much of what I learn from Owen, I bring to my readers and to my friends. Share and share alike.

Some of this is amortizing his not inconsiderable cost. Some of this is paying it forward. Most of it is the daily crush of finding something interesting, even valuable, to talk about in this enlightened space.

I suppose, because I believe he is brilliant (and my secret weapon) I think it's important for me to share. There's a lot of wisdom in the world and Owen is my conduit for receiving much of it. And I feel obliged to pay the wisdom I receive and pay forward. What's more, for whatever reason, probably because I am in my industry-mandated dotage, people regard me as a wise old owl. They come to me for things, for my experience, for my ten bloody rounds of non-Marquess of Queensberry street fighting.

BTW, this clip was shot in 1923.
I'm not so sure movies have really improved over the last 100 years.

Not too long ago, a recent addition to the freelance ranks sent me a note. He/She/They found themselves out on a ledge and worried if they'd ever work again.

I know that ledge. 

About 30 years ago I was fired from FCB for being insubordinate. I didn't show deference to the president of the agency who had 1/10th or even 1/20th of my wherewithal. (You can get fired, easily, for insubordination. The people firing never consider that you might be wrongly-subordinated and therefore in-subordinate because you're not of-subordinate.)

The agency at the time was in a dump of a building across from Grand Central Terminal. I left after being fired, shaken. It was my first time being fired and they roasted me over some corporate coals making me sign my scrotum away or I'd never get my severance.

As I walked out of their cruddy offices for the last time I tripped, literally, on a book someone had dropped on the pavement. 

I picked it up.

It was left there by god.

I worked by Grand Central and stumbled on this book. 

I sat down and cried. 

Go ahead, cry. It's ok. It's good.

I was scared.

I would never work again. Just ask me.

I believe, not in god, but in signs. 

I believe in something Owen told me that I told my friend about when she was on that ledge.

I wrote a bit of a rant about it. Something like this:

You have to believe in something I call DSA. 

Deep Self Appreciation.

Bad agencies and bad bosses, and those are almost tautological, like to strip you of your sense of worth. They like to lead you to devalue how special you are. They like to make you doubt your "you-ness." They like to make you think that you can't do good work without them.

That all adds up to one thing.

They like to make you think you're lucky to have a job.

Ixnay on athay.

Deep Self Appreciation, DSA, says only you are you. You are unique. Specially-skilled and driven. And have spent your whole life not being appreciated.

You are expected to not get paid when you work late and on weekends. You are expected not to get raises because the so-called leaders need to protect theirs. They do that by diminishing you.

Deep Self Appreciation says no more.

The world of freelance is the world of DSA.

You'll do better, financially, emotionally, get-off-the-roller-coastery, if you DSA yourself.

Believe in yourself.

Say __________ is special. And no one is more __________ than ___________.


Deep Self Appreciation.

I'm sorry.

That's all we have time for today. 

I'll see you next Thursday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Dese, Dem and Dose.

If you watch an old Warner Brothers gangster movie from the Thirties or Forties, you hear a lot of palaver about the most terrible sin that a gangster can commit. It's ok to kill your brother or shove a wheel-chaired grandmother down a steep flight of steps. But whatever you do, DON'T become a cheese-eater.

Cheese eaters vs. D and D.

That is, a rat.

That is, someone who talks to the flatfoots. 

That is, the coppers.

The police.

The highest praise you could bestow upon someone who stay quiet in the face of forceful interrogation was "he's D and D."

In the parlance of the movies and criminals, "D and D" meant "deaf and dumb." You don't hear anything, you don't say anything. (D and D is politically-incorrect today. Today we'd say HI and SI. Hearing-impaired and speaking-impaired. But, thankfully, I don't believe the mobsters are hep to that jive.)

In advertising today, at least advertising as practiced by GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, it seems to me that many clients don't have a ton of experience in either how advertising works or what it's supposed to do. They're either spread so thin they don't have time to learn it. Or they're too book/MBA smart. Or advertising is just a small portion of their daily tasks.

It seems to me that many marketers today are more "technologists," or "cost-consultants," "or what if my boss doesn't like its" than they are advertising people.

Because of that, and because I am constantly pitching, I've created some simple ways for GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company to explain what it does.

That brings me back to D and D.

Though in my neck of the woods it's not gang-related. And it doesn't stand for Deaf and Dumb.

It's my synopsis of what advertising must do for a client. What a client my demand from their advertising. What about 99.9-percent of advertising fails in.

D number one: Definition.

What does your client do?
What does your client make?
What need does it fulfill?
What makes your client valued or special or worthy of note?
What are they all about?
Why should I care?

D number two: Demonstration.

How can you show me what you do?
So I understand it?
So I believe it?
So I can "try it before I buy it?"
So I can tell my friends and my neighbors?

There are other Ds I could throw out here. A D for "dissemination." That is how do you get your message out there. And another D for "disciples." How do you create advocates for your product or services.

But to my mind, in capital A Advertising, the first D should get about 60-percent of your time, money and effort. The second D about 30-percent. And you can do what you will with the final two. 

Without the first two, everything else is academic. 

If I don't know what you do and why, why should I want anything to do with you?


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Luckiest Person in the World.

There's no one I know, and I know a lot of successful people, who haven't had a life filled with some ampleness of vicissitudes. As Buddha allegedly said, everyone carries a burden. 

As they say in Sanskrit, "Oy vey."

Real diversity, not diversity merely of the cosmetic sort, comes from a breadth of people who have lived a variety of experiences and have developed through the years a variety of mechanisms to cope, or succeed, or even rebound from failure.

Real diversity is independent thought. Real diversity is living while hearing the beat of a drummer that no one else hears. Real diversity can come from a variety of places--what you eat, what you read, how you hear the world and who you interact with.

We've made diversity less diverse by limiting its meaning. By limiting its meaning, we have actually changed its meaning.

All of us, I believe, have the capacity to bring diversity to the world, different points of views and different lives led. To regard white people as homogeneous is as wrongheaded as regarding any other group homogeneous. 

I just returned from the grocery store. 

I go just about every Sunday morning at eight, I think for two reasons. One, I buy all our food for the week. And two, I think my wife wants an hour alone where I am nowhere to grumpify my surroundings. To be clear, even seeing the world through a dark and cloudy prism is diversity. Not everyone is happy.

As I pulled my 1966 Simca 1600 into our 1920's garage (a garage from 1920 is about 35-percent smaller than modern garages. Everything, people, cars, houses, hamburgers, bureaucracy used to be more than one-third smaller) I somewhat dreaded the $338 of groceries I'd have to carry in. Groceries that actually outweighed the Simca that carried them.

I opened my trunk and with the alacrity of a practiced stevedore, I hauled my huge blue Ikea bags of groceries into our rickety cottage on the Gingham Coast. As I went through this logistical operation I said to myself, "I can't wait to get at my Mac, while my wife puts away everything I've bought, and write a blog post."

I thought about my ex-boss, Mike Tesch, a Hall-of-Fame creative who believed there was no marketing problem a great 30-second spot couldn't solve. 

Perhaps vaingloriously, I put myself in Mike's camp. 

I believe there is no marketing problem I can't solve with really good writing. Or, better, what I believe is really good writing.

But onto the title of this blog post.

I am the luckiest person in the world because I love to write. 

I am the luckiest person in the world because I live to write.

I am the luckiest person in the world because I believe in the power of the written word.

I am the luckiest person in the world because I am not afraid to face what Hemingway, real or apocryphally, called the 'white bull that is paper.'

I am the luckiest person in the world because I feed my brain constantly--with two books a week, maybe one-thousand pages, and ten book reviews and 100 articles that interest me from a dozen publications.

I am the luckiest person in the world because I don't feel I'm missing anything by not watching TV or going to superhero movies or watching asinine local news and bemoaning some quotidian bullshit.

I am the luckiest person in the world because I believe in the strength of what I do.

I am the luckiest person in the world because I get about 80,000 readers a week, a couple dozen of whom write to me, who decide to read what I write.

I am the luckiest person in the world because the tips of my fingers have a mind of their own and know what to say when I don't.

I am the luckiest person in the world because I can't touch type but somehow I think exactly as fast as I hunt and peck.

I am the luckiest person in the world because of dumb things like this: I stopped and got three gallons of gas on the way back from the grocery store. (My Simca has a six-gallon tank and stalls when I get to under half-a-tank.) A giant fuel truck was filling the tanks at the gas station. I am the luckiest person in the world because I had the curiosity to ask,

"How many gallons does your tanker hold?"


"Have you seen the Cagney movie 'White Heat,'" I asked.


"Cagney and his gang hide in an empty fuel oil truck--like yours--to rob the payroll of a gas plant. When we still got paid in cash."

"I'll check it out."

I am the luckiest person in the world because I remember scenes like this.

Top of the world, Ma.

Monday, August 15, 2022

A Matter of Principle.

If you've been in the advertising business for more than ten minutes, you've heard someone say somewhere something about The Pareto Principle, more prosaically known as the 80:20 rule. 

I first heard about it from my father, an ad man of some note back in the 1970s. I suppose we were in a grocery store somewhere, probably a dingy A&P with cracked linoleum tiles, bad lighting and their surly staff. His Agency had a beer account back then, and he was the sort of creative that would do store checks to see what kind of shelf-space "his" brands were getting.

Beer distribution back then was a kind of lead-pipe wrapped in newspaper affair. It was run by the unions which were run by the mob. I remember him telling me that it cost more to ship Budweiser across the river from New Jersey, about 25 miles,  than it did from Atlanta, 750 miles. 

That's beside the point. But he dropped off-handedly some statement like "80-percent of beer is drunk by just 20-percent of beer drinkers." "Whaddaya mean," I teenaged. "Most beer is consumed by heavy users. That's why Schaefer's campaign, 'the one beer to have when you're having more than one,' is so smart."

The ubiquity of the 80:20 rule always stayed with me. When I bucked up against creative management at every agency I worked at--primarily because I believe 20-percent of the creatives do 80-percent of the work and don't get paid accordingly. I was always reprimanded for being stern and demanding. 

I may very well be. That doesn't mean I'm not right.

In any event, around the year 2000, when computers and software began taking control of our lives, I found myself thinking how germane, once again, the 80:20 rule is.

In most operations, software can handle 80-percent of what you need doing. Booking a flight, submitting a bill for freelance, scheduling your 1966 Simca for service.

I remember once, maybe 15 years ago, booking a flight on Jet Blue and doing everything entirely online. It was all as simple as buying a gumball from an old machine outside of the aforementioned A&P.

And then.

And then.

It snowed. 

One flight was delayed. Another canceled. A couple pilots didn't show up. 

Before there was an inch of accumulation on the ground, the entire eastern seaboard was bottlenecked. Soon, the entire country east of the Mississippi. Soon, the entire world.

Software couldn't handle it.

Software couldn't staunch your anger.

Software can't speak sincerely. 

Can't say, I'm sorry.

The problem is exacerbated because most companies want to believe software can do everything. So there are no people anymore. There's no one to help.

A few months ago, someone stole my wife's identity. All of a sudden her bank account (at one of America's largest banks) was under siege. The same day that bank announced multi-billion-dollar quarterly profits, my wife was kept on hold for two hours or three. 

Record profits. No people.

Three weeks ago I went to the CVS to buy a soda. They told me I couldn't. A software failure had shut down their "systems," and none of the two allegedly functioning humans in the store could "ring me up" "take my money" "make change." Least of all, there was no one with the emotional intelligence to tell me to take the soda and pay them back next time I'm in the store.

I think the ad industry has fallen prey to 80:20 didacticism. About 40 times a day I'm force-fed a message that's obviously been concocted by software and software thinking. It's not just that it's maladroit and dull. Many of these messages are downright insulting. 

We used to criticize work by saying, "your strategy is showing." Today you can criticize work with the sentence, "your software is showing."

At least in my over-60 group, the harkening back to the 80s cohort, there are many of us who resent being treated like an algorithm by an algorithm. Whether or not such treatment is "cost-effective," it's still inhuman.

Somehow, in business, in the agency world, in life, we have to figure out a way to treat humans as humans. 

As many ethicists, or simply decent people have pointed out, "treat others as you wish to be treated. Everything else is commentary."

I don't believe software alone is up to that task.

It takes humanity.

Whatever that is.

Friday, August 12, 2022

A Good Bad Place.

The first time I stepped into a professional baseball stadium that wasn't a major league stadium, was when I showed up one morning, unannounced, unwanted and unknown at el Estadio de Beisbol Francesco I. Madura, in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico.

That was more than 47 years ago. And though el Estadio was relatively new at the time (this was 1975 and estadio was built in 1963) I remember thinking to myself that the place was as rickety as set of tectonic tinker toys. 

A few years earlier, back in the Bronx, a team I was playing on had won some tournament. We were invited to Yankee 
Stadium--the Cathedral of the sport, and got to go down onto the field to meet some of the players. The turf was as green as a Brazilian rainforest. In el Estadio, the grass was more brown than green, and the infield dirt was stony and alluvial, like the fringe of a beach on City Island.

My first time at bat as a professional, just a few hours after trying out for the Seraperos, I caught a fastball up and out over the plate. I hit it as hard as any ball I ever hit, and it lined to left and struck the desiccated maroon wooden wall that ringed the outfield. In fact, it cracked through the fence and stuck in the dried wood. I had a ground's rule double.

I remember not much from the rest of the game but I stayed late in the locker room afterward, looking at the old pipe above my cubby and watching it drip brown water on the floor beside my space. I threw a sandpaper towel to cover the wet, but soon it was damp and yellowed like everything else.

Once dressed, avoiding going back to my small hotel room with a cardboard dresser and just two of three blades on the ceiling fan, I walked out onto the field and then climbed over a small metal railing and into the stands.

The stadium was small. Until its reconstruction in 1996 when it nearly tripled in size, it had just 6,000 seats. And as I walked around the single deck listening to the janitors sing and chatter as they cleaned the ball park, I remember thinking that of the 6,000 seats, a good 3,000 seemed to be missing an armrest or a slat or a coat of paint.

I knew no one in Saltillo at that time. I had no friends on the team. Like the slats on those so many seats, everything I had known or knew was missing or broken or both.

Even Hector, who would quickly have me move into his small neat house with his wife, Teresa and would become my de facto father--I was with him when he died--barely knew me and I barely knew him. 

Maybe it was my loneliness, the fear of being all alone in a strange land where I didn't understand or speak the language, maybe that was the reason the entire city of Saltillo then--almost half-a-million people--and older by decades than any city in el Norte seemed so, not decrepit, but worse, in the late stages of falling apart.

I didn't know back then, after Nixon's resignation, after the Agent Orange defoliation of the Vietnamese jungles, after a million villages and a million people being killed, the word dystopian. I probably could have guessed its meaning but I hadn't heard or read, yet, the word.

But in rape-borne Saltillo, a city spawned by the Spaniards lust for gold and god and girl, it seemed like every facade was crumbling. The old towers built by the glory that was Spain, leaned as if we were in Pisa. Every street lamp flickered. Every stairwell was missing one step, or two. And every person and every automobile was absent either some teeth or a headlight or a taillight. Or all three.

As I fell in love in Mexico, first with being away from what I had run away from in America, next with Hector, next with Karmen, my summer's inamorata, then with the team, the boys, the game, the aches and the pains, I fell in love, too, with Saltillo and Estadio.

I fell in love with the broke and the broken. I fell in love with the cracked Saltillo tiles and the cracked skulls. I fell in love, even, with my cracked life that I had run away to Mexico to try to krazy glue together.

When you fall in love you fall in love. 

You don't see the things you used to see when you were not in love. You see people, homes, jobs, cars, children, restaurants, lovers, cities, countries, you see everything with love. I suppose if I saw a replica of my first car, a used 1964 Mercury Comet with 108,000 miles on it, I'd see, not a jalopy tilted on all four sides, but a bejeweled coach pulled by a team of snow-white horses and driven by a coachman who looked like Heidi Klum and smiling like a midwestern politician.

One night, in the dugout in the stadium as the long season was nearing its end, I was falling out of love. With baseball itself. With the 12-hour bus rides. With banality and bruises and beanballs. I was falling out of love with realizing that once you run away from home the place you run to soon becomes your home and maybe that too needs fleeing.

I looked around at the chipping paint, the chipping fans, my chipping teammates.

"I think the world is falling apart," I said to the dead air next to Hector. "This is a bad stadium." 

Hector watched closely the game. We were down by two--it seems we spent the whole season down by two--as we headed into our last at bat. He balanced a 33-ounce bat on two fingers of his right hand. He kept the bat vertical for a good two-minutes, watching the game first, his periphery keeping the ash upright. When the bat tumbled, he started again.

"You are a young man," Hector balanced. "You had a good season. You are a good ballplayer. But now you are tired."

"I'm sorry, Hector. This is a good stadium. I love this place. You are right."

"No," Hector said. "You are right. You are only 17, but you are tired like a 70-year-old. This is a bad stadium." The bat fell again to the concrete. And Hector again balanced it as he watched the game.

"You, Jorge, deserve that tired. You were not born young. You were born almost dead and as threatened as a small nation surrounded by large enemies."

Andrade, pinch-hitting for our junk lefty, Marco Tovar, punched a bouncer through the right side. It chopped heavily on the hard ground of the infield and hopped over their second-sacker’s head. 'Brutus' Cesar came up as the tying run.

"It is a bad stadium," Hector said. "The men who built it took five dollars out of every four allotted to it to coat their pockets with gold. They opened here with no lights, no doors on the bathrooms and on the rare days it rains, puddles to your waist on the warning track."

Cesar popped up to their catcher and the game was over. The air was fully out of the balloon. The day exploded but without a bang.

"But," Hector said, "It is a bad stadium. It was named after a man who the people voted to become president of Mexico, but the despot, Porfirio Diaz, the president for life killed him with one-thousand bullets to his head.

"He killed one-million others, too. Men and women and children who died wearing the only clothing they owned, many barefoot because they had no shoes. This is who the stadium was named after.

"And it is a bad stadium. And this is a bad land. 'Pobre México, tan lejos de Dios y tan proximo a los Estados Unidos.' Poor Mexico, so far from god, so close to the United States. But is better to have a bad stadium with good people," Hector said, stopping mid-sentence and sitting with me alone in the empty dugout as the few fans left the place.

"It is better to have a bad stadium with good people," he said as he stood. "than good stadium with bad people."

We sat in the quiet as the crowd left the bad stadium. Through thick metal doors, we heard the boys in the locker-room. "We are good people, Jorge."


Thursday, August 11, 2022

Stunting Growth.

It seems to me that more and more advertising, and more and more of what's covered in the so-called, non-blog-derived advertising press, is devoted to banal stunts that do nothing, really, to enhance the value of a brand, in either the long- or even short-term.

Last week, my social feeds were agog with a sneaker with a Heineken-beer-filled sole. I think I've seen bacon-flavored deodorants. Mac-and-cheese-scented candles. And a host of other actions. 

I'm sure there's an awards calculus here. I'm just not sure there's a real-value calculus.

The reason I'm so disgusted by things like this is that they reduce advertising, which had been a business-building profession, to a freak-show, a joke. Like we're the marketing equivalent of a juggler or a sword-swaller.

To be all semiotic about in at least in New York City, arguably, the center of world advertising, when I started in the business in 1980, agencies were within spitting distance of their Fortune 500 clients. Big clients had offices on Park Avenue, and Fifth Avenue, and Third and Lex. And so did agencies. 

Because they did work that was essential to the success of their clients, agencies were located near their clients. Now agencies, in the words of Sir John Hegarty, "have retreated to the fringes." So they're located on 11th Avenue or someplace in an outer borough. 

There's no debating, these places are cooler than the corporate world of mid-town. But I'm reminded of an apocryphal quotation by notorious bank-robber, Willie Sutton. "I rob banks because that's where the money is." In short, you should be near to where your clients are. That’s where the money is.

Just yesterday, I read an item--the sort of joke item the industry seems to relish--about the American pizza chain Domino's, closing the last of its 29 outlets in Italy, the accepted home of real pizza.

The dumbness of Domino's having restaurants in Italy made me think of the thinking, the intelligence, the brilliance of another brand's campaign, Levy's Rye Bread. That work ran primarily in New York's subway system in the 1960s and 1970s.

The campaign started with an observation, presumably by Mr. Bernbach. 

Levy's wanted to increase their sales. (Why advertise otherwise?) Since rye bread was eaten mainly by Jews, the brand was advertising primarily in The New York Post, whose readership was eighty-percent Jewish.

Despite what you may have heard,
Malcolm X never said, "By any seeds necessary."

Rather than continue that media strategy and hope heavy users would eat more Levy's, Bernbach wanted to reach a wider audience. People who weren't currently eating Levy's.

DDB positioned Levy's as the gold-standard in rye bread...Jewish rye. And then appealed to New York's broad palette of ethnicities by saying Levy's was for them, not just Jews.

I don't know what, if anything Domino's did to promote its outlets in Italy. 

Many years ago, I wrote a campaign for a cheap wine called Folinari. I did some research (this was pre-planner when writers were allowed to do research.) I found Folinari was the number-one-selling Italian wine in France. It didn’t matter that they sold about eight bottles a year. Number one is number one.

After I found that out, I didn't have much left to do. Maybe I rounded the message out by saying, "In France, where they know more about wine than anywhere else, the Italian wine they drink more than any other is Folinari."

I don't know if there was a strategy behind Domino's 29 restaurants in Italy. I don't know if someone wrote a line that said, "The only foreign pizza good enough for Italy is Domino's." I don't know if they built a "taste and authenticity" campaign around their retail strategy.

I suspect, it was all just a stunt. Like the aforementioned sword swallowers. 

Stunts are fine.

When everything else you're doing is working perfectly and you have more than enough money to do what you need to do for real, material growth. They're kind of like buying a crazy suit of clothes when you have the basics of your wardrobe down. Or a 1922 Stutz Bearcat when you already have a working SUV or  sedan. 

But stunts are not, by definition, part of a long-term strategy. They're a surge, maybe, as you run toward a finish line. They're not a substitute for real work.

Just as opening a store someplace is no substitute for making a product that's better than its competitors’— that people have a genuine set of reasons to want.

Most success in life and in advertising comes from a consistent ethic of doing the things that need to be done. 

As the disgraced Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of life is showing up." Maybe eighty percent of being a successful brand is also showing up. Showing up with something to say. And saying it in a way that people notice and like.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Getting dick from consultants.


Last week, I was back in the city to meet with clients. A bunch of us went to a new restaurant, 'Rick's Place.' I noticed that the waiter who took our orders carried a spoon in his shirt pocket.

It seemed a little strange. Pencil, yes. Spoon, huh?

When the busboy brought our water and utensils, I observed that he also had a spoon in his shirt pocket.

Then I looked around and saw that all the staff had spoons in their pockets.

When the waiter came back to serve our soup I inquired, 'Why the spoon?''

'Well,' he explained, 'the restaurant's owner hired Accenture to revamp all of our processes. After several months of analysis, they concluded that the spoon was the most frequently dropped utensil. It represents a drop frequency of approximately 3 spoons per table per hour. If our personnel are better prepared, we can reduce the number of trips back to the kitchen and save 15 man-hours per shift.'

As luck would have it, I dropped my spoon and he quickly replaced it with his spare.

'I'll get another spoon next time I go to the kitchen instead of making an extra trip to get it right now.'

I was impressed.

Then I also noticed that there was a string hanging out of the waiter's fly.

Looking around, I saw that all of the waiters had the same string hanging from their flies.

So, before he walked off, I asked the waiter, 'Excuse me, but can you tell me why you have that string right there?'

'Oh, certainly!' Then he lowered his voice.

'Not everyone is so observant.

‘That consulting firm I mentioned also learned that we can save time in the restroom.

‘By tying this string to the tip of our you-know-what, we can pull it out without touching it and eliminate the need to wash our hands, shortening the time spent in the restroom by 76.39%.’

I asked quietly, 'After you get it out, how do you put it back?'

'Well,' he whispered, 'I don't know about the others, but I use the spoon.'

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Lost: One Forest, Hidden Among Trees.

Some months ago, The New York Times company bought a publication called The Athletic. To gin up their number of subscribers, the cost of a monthly subscription was lowered to just 99-cents.

I'm not much of a sports fan these days, but I miss reading a good sports page. In fact, back when I was a sinewy boy, the Times' sports page was anchored by great writers like Red Smith (who had won a Pulitzer) George Vecsey and Ira Berkow. 

The Times also provided box scores and statistics. Both of which helped me follow the day-to-day and look, at a glance, at the entire season. That's all gone now. I'm not one-hundred percent sure why. And the Times' sports page doesn't even list the standings--who's leading in the various leagues, the box scores--an account of the previous day's games, or data on who has the best batting average, the most home runs, the lowest ERA and the most wins.

With the Athletic, I was hoping for a return to that statistical past.

And I got none of it.

I got more data than I ever imagined, with a new set of statistical measures I didn't understand. Some of those measures so obscure as to be utterly meaningless.

Last night for instance, I looked at baseball standings and saw that the data provided now supplies information on run differential. How much less or more one team has scored than its opponents over the course of the season so far.

Hold on. I'm getting to my advertising point. It's just taking a while.

Back in 1960, one of the greatest baseball teams in history, the New York Yankees played the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. The Yankees roster included legends like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford. 

In the Series, the Yankees scored more runs over the seven games than any team in history, 55. The Pirates scored fewer than half that, 27. 

Yet the Pirates won the Series, four games to three.

That brings me, finally, to my point. 

In the Jewish Bible, the one co-opted by Christians and deemed "Old," there's a passage in Proverbs that reads, "With all thy getting, get understanding." 

That's what I'm thinking about as I write this. The version of that proverb today might be modernized: "With all thy data, get understanding." 

Advertising as an industry has more information about consumers, their behaviors and their buying habits than ever before. My Amazon Alexa has the chutzpah to tell me when I'm running low on my multi-vitamins. 

We have more information than ever before. 

But do we know what our jobs are?

Like the aforementioned World Series, the goal isn't just to score more runs in aggregate over the course of a seven-game series. The goal is to win more games.

Yesterday, I saw the above online from Ogilvy.

As someone who for twelve years bled Ogivy red, I immediately thought of this:

"We inspire brands and people to impact the world" versus "We sell or else."

I dunno.

I'm almost sixty-five years old and I can't think of a single instance where my plastic wrap, bacon bits, paper napkins or low-fat yogurt inspired me to impact the world. I don't even know what 'impact the world' means. Worse than that, it's nearly impossible to impact the world. 

In fact, according to noted scientist Vaclav Smil, there are four materials that make up our modern world: cement, steel, plastics and ammonia. Without them, we don't live, eat or move.

None of those four materials can be produced without huge expenditures of carbon. Switching from plastic straws is a spit in the ocean, impact-wise.

Closer to home, the best paper napkins are called "Vanity Fair." They are way better than anything else on the market. However, they're made by a company called Georgia-Pacific, which is owned by the fascist, murderous, climate-denying Koch Industries. 

Can you avoid buying them? It's damn hard.

AT&T and Verizon cable systems carry racist, fascist, climate-denying, choice abnegating, election conspiracy spinning OAN and Sinclair "news" shows. Can you drop your phone service? Can you impact the world?

Impacting the world is for the likes of Dr. King, not Dr. Pepper.

And it's not what advertising is for.

Advertising exists to sell stuff.

If as an industry, we can't agree to that timeless principle, if we can't "sell" that, if we can't recruit people and new business according to that, we are wholly, completely and irrevocably fucked. And we deserve to be.

Back about a year ago, the research firm Gartner reported "Marketing budgets have fallen to 6.4% of companies’ revenue this year from 11% last year, according to the annual CMO Spend Survey...The new level is the lowest since the survey began in 2012 and the first time it has dipped below 10%, Gartner said."

I don't wonder about that 41% plummet in marketing budgets as a percent of revenue.

I wouldn't go to a dentist who promises, "I want your teeth to make an impact on the world." I'll choose a dentist because she fills cavities, keeps my gums from receding and keeps my teeth clean.

I get my business by helping clients grow.

That impacts my living and theirs. It helps all our careers.

From there, if you want to impact the world, fine. It's your dime.

Until then, let's sell things.


BTW, as you'd expect, Rob gets it.

Monday, August 8, 2022

How I Deal. A Recap.

As I wind up my "regular" work week, some time before Jeopardy! on Friday evening, my thoughts turn to the work-week ahead before they turn to what I hope will be a restorative weekend.

I take half an hour or so and reconnoiter what's on the schedule. I make sure everything I've booked is in my calendar. Importantly, since the arrogance of my eidetic memory keeps me from writing appointments down as I make them, I try to make sure I haven't screwed up by double or triple booking any time slots. 

I also check to see what work I've promised and when. Then I look over that work to make sure I'm happy with it. Or, more likely, if I'm on my way to being happy with it. Much of this is so when my wife inevitably asks me "do you have to work this weekend?" I can answer with some accuracy. "I have about an hour to pull something together." Or, "I need to finish something." Or, rarely, "No, I'm ok."

The sole-proprietor work regimen is grueling, of course. But it beats hands down the 38 years I was salaried at an agency. Then, like most people, I did work each weekend, and didn't get paid for it. Now at least the weekend's grind is calculated into my fee.

When all that's done, I turn to this space.

This space.

I've written this blog every working day, five-days-a-week not counting holidays and my 2013 car-crash brush-with-death, for 15 years and three months without fail.

That's 6,408 posts in all, which over the 183 months I've been keeping Ad Aged going, amounts to an average of 35 posts a month.

Back almost 20 years ago, I went to one of the top eye-doctors in Manhattan--a guy with the requisite Park Avenue address--and I had Lasik surgery. When I came in about a week later for my post-operative exam, my doctor was upset. He thought he saw something in my right eye which made him uncomfortable.

He quickly made a phone call then scribbled a name and an address on a sheet of paper. 

"Go to this doctor. I want him to check out your eye."

I looked at the name of the doctor and his was Russian. At the time the city was fairly teeming with Russian doctors who were doing high-volume Lasik surgery.

"His name sounds like one of those doctors," I said "who advertises on the subway. Why are you sending me to him?"

"He is one of those guys," my high-priced doctor said. "He's very good. And where I do one-hundred Lasik operations a year, he does two-thousand. I want him to take a look."

Running your own agency, I think, is like running a Lasik clinic that advertises on the subway. 

Last year, my CFO, who's also my wife came downstairs around tax time.

"Do you know how many clients you had last year?" she asked me.

"I dunno," I said with my usual perspicacity. "22?"

"29, fathead."

I did some math in my head. I do about twenty ads for every client presentation. That means in 2021, I wrote 580 ads. Plus the 150 I've written for GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company. Plus my 250 posts in this space.

These days, as I try to build my business, win new business, exceed the expectations of my clients and more, I think a lot about how much I've bitten off.

A lot of my ambition comes because I don't regard myself as competing with little agencies or in-house marketing departments. I believe I can, with my select band of colleagues, kick the collective keister of any agency anywhere. Sans bullshit, we can do better work, faster and more of it.  And while GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company charges a lot, I still charge a lot less than my chubby, clubby over-head supporting competitors.

That's when I come back to this blog.

And my push to keep on keeping on.

If I'm competing with another creative--and when aren't we?--I think: 

"I've written two-million words in this space. That's two-million words on deadline, directed by briefs I've written, for a growing audience of more than 80,000 readers a week.

"You might be bigger than me. You might have more awards than me. You might have 19 people around you and wads of infrastructure supporting you. 

"But I've written two million more words than you. And I'm going to kick your ass."

When I'm done with that reverie, my weekend begins.

Friday, August 5, 2022

My History with History.

More than anything else, even old Beetle Bailey comic books, I read large books about history. 

Sweeping histories.

By that, I don't mean histories about the world before vacuum cleaners, but histories that cover giant swaths of time, space and distance.

The Anabasis by Xenophone. Herodotus of Helicarnassus. Even the Western War in the Pacific against the Empire of Japan, which covered roughly one-half of the planet earth at its apogee.

I read these books, and literally hundreds of others, because in their gloom, they reassure me. 

Humankind (an oxymoron if there ever was one) has always been on the brink of destruction and in the vise-like grip of utter cruelty. 

There's probably not a being anywhere on our dying planet that doesn't have somewhere in their distant or not so distant past a rape, a pillaging, an immolation, being sold into slavery, being left exposed to die, some horrible plague, or near starvation with calories provided only by reindeer lichens and mosses covered or nearly so completely in guano. 

I quote Dr. King all the time that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. But damn, to the naked eye, that moral arc is all but parallel--it bends ever-so-obliquely if it bends at all. 

Of course, having spent my entire life trying to live the American Dream--trying to make it amid America's great transfer of wealth from the middle class to the plutocrats, trying to make it during rampant inflation, stagflation, and re-inflation, trying to make it during reagan recessions, W's global economic crashes, and trumpian evil, I spend a good portion of my waking and my fevered sleeping hours thinking about the microcosm of the advertising industry and how it replicates or imitates in form and function the macro world.

There are two major lessons from world history that I'm glad I learned. 

If the Holding Company Chieftains paid me enough, and agreed not to accuse me of harkening back, I'd take a few dozen thousand dollars from them and teach them some history as it applies to the advertising business. 

For starters, two major points. 

Both complicated.

Both ripe for denial.

1. There is evil everywhere. On the way to their ascent, most entities perpetrate great wrongs. That's why the most exalted civilizations, nations, religions, companies, families and even ad agencies create strong narratives. 

These narratives deny or overlook genocide, religious and cultural persecution and cruelty. When we think of the Trojan War, we don't think of Iphigenia's throat being cut by her father Agemenom, to propitiate the gods. We don't think about the rapes and the burning. In our own history, we don't like to concede first-people's genocide or that our so-called "exceptionalism" is based on slavery, racism and exploitation.

Even with deified brands like Nike and Apple, we buy their garage-based origin stories and turn a visually-impaired eye toward the slaves sweating in factories for pennies an hour.

We refuse to acknowledge the environmental destruction brooked by favored American institutions like McDonald's and Coca-Cola. Now, we wave flags, slake our diabetic appetites and love to see ya smile.

We create stories. Or we'd blow our heads off. This is the essence of our craft. And it's important. 

Without stories, without myths, we'd have to acknowledge a whole host of chazerai that would kill us if we admitted it.

I do work for a company now that seeks to improve factory-farming. Of course the immediate question is always, why can't the food we eat be cage-free and all-natural. The only real response to that is stark: "We can. But of the eight-billion people on our planet, which four-billion do you want to starve to death."

That's lesson one.

Lesson two is worse.

2. Study any "great" civilization from the English Crown, to the Roman Empire, to the Aecheminid (Persian) Empire. To amerika in the age of trump. 

The stickiest of all wickets, the toughest thing in all the world is peaceful succession--the handing over of power from one set or generations of leaders to another.

Genuine English history makes the fictional "Game of Thrones" look like Gilligan's Island. The Persians, were, perhaps, even more aggrieved, in that men married their mother, sisters, aunts, sister in laws, daughters and more. So their brothers were their fathers and their uncles were their brothers. So when they killed to rise they killed their own. In the hundreds. 

Of the hundred or so Roman emperors, roughly 75 were suicided or poisoned or stabbed 37 times in the back by their best friends. Those masters of branding, the Nazis, named it well. Hitler's rise was sped by "the night of the long knives." ("Now with 25% more acuity.™")

My point here is simple.

Agency succession sucks. 

In my lifelong study of the industry, I've rarely if ever seen an agency endure from founder to lieutenants or from great to greater. Since I was fired from Ogilvy for making them too much money, in just over two years, the New York office has had six or more CCOs. More CCOs than they have accounts, to be snide.

(Just because you're snide doesn't mean you're wrong.)

There are, yes, there are ways to avoid succession battles. There's a cost, of course, in doing so. But most costs, if properly and thoughtfully paid, are less-expensive than financing.


I know this is a lot for a summer Friday.

I'm sorry. I read a lot.

Not to be gendered about it, but as the Allman Brothers sang,  "I'm trying to make a living and doing the best I can."

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Infrequently Asked Questions.

Since I left the Agency business, to be somewhat tautological about it, I have gotten my agency back.

I been able to break the Holding Company deception of being called an "executive." By calling you an executive, Holding Companies get around paying you for every hour you work. Executives don't get paid hourly. So, you're an executive--but you have no executive perqs, appurtenances or security. 

Those un-worked hours? Corvee.

More important, even, than getting paid for every hour I work, I have revitalized my entrepreneurial side--a side I never knew I had. 

In an agency today, you're not to think about what the client needs. You're meant to think about what the client's asked for. And you're meant to do it within someone else's designated scope. God forbid you do more or take longer. God forbid you over-deliver. That's ground for dismissal since your "burn rate" will be too high. 

My glib shorthand for this--and yes, I do know that I have a certain annoying glibness--is that agencies hire ambitious people, then penalize them for being too ambitious. In the Zero-Sum Game played in most agencies, there's not enough money or success to go around to applaud and reward the over-achiever. You're better off, in the words of an ex-client of mine, to "fly low, fly slow and try not crash."

That's why agencies spend so much time and effort on things that never run for clients that don't pay. 

Fake work is the only way to get real feelings.

Many years ago, even as a Jewish person, I had come across a Trinity that I felt some kinship toward. I've never discussed it with an HR person, or a boss, or nearly anyone but my wife and a few close friends and my striving daughters.

The best workers are made up of three spheres--and the best companies demand that their workers develop all three of these attributes.

1. They must be grinders. That is they have to know how to crank. How to make. How to crisis. They have to actually be more than a supervisor--they have to pick up a pen and write, or draw or think. They have to come through when the sweat is pouring and so many other people are paralyzed with fear. They have to say, "so what it's due in an hour. I can do that and do it well."

2. They must be minders. They must be the person who knows how to make a tetchy client relax, or a nervous-nellie boss or executive. They have to know how to keep things running smoothly no matter what, with little upset. Colloquially, they accept, no relish, being the one-throat-to-choke. They understand, that "their work is their word. And their word is their bond."

3. They must be finders. They must always be looking for, creating and grasping new opportunities. They must always be thinking, always be pitching, always be closing. Always be showing the world what their work and their thinking can do. And therefore, always attracting new business and new sources of revenue.

Grinder. Minder. Finder.

If I had to point out the one difference of striking out on your own and escaping the totalitarianism of the Holding Company system where you work unpaid hours to make other people rich, I'd say it's that you give yourself agency again.

It all comes back, as most everything does, to one of my great Creative Directors, Rabbi Hillel:

"If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"

I've been working for myself, running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company for two-and-a-half years now. I was fired just after I turned 62, though I was the person people at a once great agency came to when there was a hairy problem maybe no one else could handle.

GeorgeCo., like so many things, was born from fear. How can I make a living? How can I grow as a human? How can I discover who I am? Most of all, the vital questions of integrity and meaning.

These questions are the questions of life and work. 

They're never really answered--I'm not sure they can be. But you can work on answering them every day. And then, tomorrow, work on it again.