Friday, August 26, 2022

A Letter to Ad People Who Know Something Is Very Wrong.

My mentor, and if I may say, my friend, Steve Hayden and I speak with some frequency.

Steve was the Vice Chairman at Ogilvy when Ogilvy was Ogilvy. For many years he was the person behind both the Apple business while at Chiat and BBDO, and the IBM business while at Ogilvy. He was also the copywriter on Apple's "1984," a commercial many argue is the most important (and best) commercial ever.

I always get a little nervous when I talk to Steve. His brain in way up above the stratosphere, maybe up in the exosphere, maybe beyond the Van Allen belt. I am, comparatively speaking, earth-bound. I also can't believe we're actually friends. Or that he regards me as talented enough to waste time on.

Nevertheless, Steve and I speak. And Steve, and the former Chairwoman of Ogilvy, Shelly Lazarus, often send business to GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company.

Talk about pressure.


Steve and I had a conversation the other day. Our conversations are often like a detective at a crime scene. They hop all over the place finding and digging into shreds and shards, bits and bobs of information and observations. You have to be on your toes.

One day Steve asked me, "How's it going with Alex?" I've changed the names, but Alex is a client Steve steered my way. 

I was walking down the street in Manhattan and talking to Steve. It was raining hard and I've been asked a question by Steve and can't just say, "fine." Like I said, our conversations are intense and "evidentiary." No chit-chat here.

"I think it's going well," I said. "Alex called me last Saturday morning and asked for my help writing a eulogy for a business associate of his that died."

I wasn't with Steve at that moment but I imagined a perfect James Finlayson doubletake.

"I'd say that's going well."

There's a point in this. I'm going to try to sum it up in one word, one made-up word: Centeritude.

I have a lot of clients, touch wood. And with each of them, I have earned more than a dollop of Centeritude. 

GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company doesn't just write ads for these companies. Steve (and so many others) trained me to earn my spot at the center of those companies. In most cases, I sit side-by-side with their CEO or their CMO or both. 

I don't spend my days discussing fonts or word choices or even small editorial fillips. I am helping companies figure out who they are, what they do, why they do it and how to express themselves.

If you go back to the great agencies and great advertising campaigns, in so many ways, in ways that go way past advertising's most-modest role of selling a particular product or service, Centeritude advertising has more to do. 

By no means am I comparing the work I do to the work DDB did for Avis or VW. Chiat does for Apple. Ally did for FedEx. Ammirati for BMW. 

But in my own little way, I have harkened back and created a small, very profitable agency that guides companies in the most intimate and integral manner.

My two cents says that most agencies have forgotten the potential of what agencies can do. In the words of Sir John Hegarty, advertising has relegated itself to the fringes. We make ketchup-flavored lipstick, or beer-filled sneakers. Cheap marketing tchotchkes with all the lastingness of a fart in a hurricane.

That's why, geographically, agencies are no longer in the center of cities. We're out in the fringes.  

It's why our value is assessed by procurement, not business leaders.

It's why the industry competes on the basis of cost, not on the basis of brains. 

It's why so much of the vitality that advertising once had has been taken over by consultancies. 

And it's why the industry no longer attracts and retains the 'best and the brightest.'

The brands that have taken over real estate in my brain are all brands that were built in large measure by great advertising. Great advertising that uniquified them, clarified them, guided their behaviors, and made them 'lust objects.'

I believe that the role of advertising is not just to create better ads.

We can go beyond that.

If we get lucky, way beyond that.

We can create better companies.

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