Friday, September 30, 2022

The Fall and Fall.

About a month before I got fired from Ogilvy for doing work that wasn't an ugly Tik-Tok video or a phonus-balonus 'event,' and for making the agency too much money from clients who were deemed too big and therefore unhip, I showed up high--very high--for a client meeting.

I should clarify. I don't do drugs. Except for a few peer-pressured moments, I never have. 

I have enough problems with my equilibrium without subjecting myself to drugs.

On this particular day I had a first meeting with a senior client and I didn't want to miss it. 

I also had minor surgery on my left hand. Ergo, the narcotics. But I had to make the meeting.

We were all sitting around a conference room table. The Client. The CEO of the agency. An account person or two. A project manager and three senior creatives, including myself.

The agency CEO turned to me--there must have been a gap in the agenda--and said without introduction, "George, why don't you start?"

For as long as I've been in the advertising business, I've always prepared notes before meetings. What I intended to say. The reasons why we did what we did. Why I believed it would work. It's best not to go into meetings naked and five minutes preparation yields dividends.

But on this occasion, I had sped high from a taxi to a conference room and had no such composure. Nevertheless, I was on the hook.

I think I gave the best seven or eight-minute speech of my life. Not only did I tear up afterward, everyone else did too. My introduction went something like this.

"I should apologize from the outset. I'm a little high right now. I'm not as cogent as usual. I had minor hand-surgery at New York hospital and the procedures were way more baroque than I thought they'd be, medication-wise. So, if I'm a little rambling or incoherent, that's why.

"I have to tell you something about the people in this room who are working on your business. Working on a challenge like yours--well, I've had a long-career and this has been the biggest challenge I've ever faced. But, damn, it's fun.

"Like Churchill said, we have nothing to give but blood, sweat, toil and tears, and that's what we're doing. Because everyone in this room loves the work, loves the challenge, loves what we're trying to do and would run through hell in a gasoline suit to get it done.

"There are a lot of lofty titles in this room. There are ten dozen case-studies we could trot out and ten ten-dozen awards. But none of that matters. Because what's in this room isn't just an assortment of advertising people, it's, in a non-gendered way, a band-of-brothers.

"We look out for each other. We cover each other. We push each other. We demand of each other, because that's what we do. Because we believe in each other and we believe in the work we're doing.

"There's a lot of bullshit and blather and patented methodologies about how work gets created and the special ways agencies do things. In fact, this is my 13th agency, and I think I've heard them all. 

"But none of them is worth a hill of beans if the people behind that methodology don't care for, even love you, the client, the assignment, and maybe most of all each other.

"This isn't right here in this room, like the rest of the industry where we're lusting after trophies. Everyone in this room knows that all that glitters is not gold. What we're lusting after is your resuscitation. Your renewal. Your resurrection."

"George?" someone said, "You're high and you said all that? That was fucking amazing."

It's also what holding companies don't understand.

A month later, almost to the day, I was fired.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

How it Started. How it's Going.

Somehow we, as ostensible humans, have arrived at the belief that anything new is better than whatever it's replaced.

I suppose that's in our genetic wiring. 

The hunt for improvement leads to progress.

But the distance between here and there is not linear. New and different is very often not new and better. But rather, new and worse.

Here's an ancient example.

About 2500 years ago, the Greeks discovered that building fortresses with curved walls was smarter than building fortresses with straight walls and right angles.

This was the era of siege warfare and spears, javelins and the ballista from catapults would do less damage to rounded than flat walls. They couldn't hit rounded walls dead on. Force was diffused. 

I've learned after 42 years in advertising. Diffusion of enemy bombardment can be a good thing.

That engineering logic was passed on from Greek to Roman. If you go to Europe, you'll still see curved fortresses like the  13th Century Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia in Albi, France. 

By the 16th Century, the old ways of building were falling out of favor. Flat-walled fortifications became the rage. Shear walls that tried to face-down projectiles head-on.

By the time Robert E. Lee helped design Fort Pulaski in Georgia, form had overwhelmed function. Walls were flat and fortresses were essentially useless.

It hardly mattered that fortresses didn't keep the other guys out. They looked modern. And were probably cheaper to build.

But, as always, this is a blog about advertising. So what am I talking about bombardments for?

This is too simplistic by half, but there's a meme going around, I think started by my gifted friend and former colleague, John Long. It's called "How it started/How it's going." It compares seminal ads from days of yore to some of the vomitous pablum spewed today.

It's not entirely fair, of course, because it involves cherry-picking. But in principle the examples above seem very much akin to the curved vs. flat-walled fortification metaphor.

It seems to me that many of today's communications have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, the very basic truths of communications.

In my youth, agency people often cited AIDA as a guide to effective communications. Not the Verdi opera, but an acronym for Attention. Interest. Desire. Action. The four components of any good communication. 

These days, I prefer even over AIDA, Dave Trott's inverted pyramid. In his videos, Dave does a damn good job explaining the universality of how we communicate, and how our species has communicated since we came down from trees and started walking upright.

If you care about advertising or communications at all, you'll watch Trott's videos. If you're a CEO or CMO, you'll make everyone around you watch them. If you're a smart CEO or CMO or agency person, Trott's codification will be the basis of what you do as an organization. And if you're really smart, yes, there will be a quiz in the morning. And every morning. And you'll pass it or be fired.

Not too long ago I read that it was the birthday of a voice of my youth, the actor Arnold Stang. Stang described himself as "looking like a frightened chipmunk who stood out in the rain too long."

I stumbled upon this reel of commercials Stang starred in--I'd imagine they were written with Stang in mind--for the Chunky chocolate bar.

I realize that these commercials are likely older than anyone reading this post.

But I think they're better, just about, than anything on the air today.

They establish a character, a brand, a 'mouth feel,' and make you want a Chunky. They break through and they're memorable. Oh, and I like the brand after seeing them. More than I did before seeing them.

No gimmicks.

No flash.

No pomp.

Just something with wit, humor, empathy and a damn good mnemonic. 

Maybe we're doing it wrong.

That's how it's going.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Of Rats and Men.

Of all the many shams of our many-shammed (and shamed) era, perhaps the one that annoys me most of all is most often captured and filed under the notion of "usability." As someone who is rapidly approaching 65-years-of-age, I'll admit that I spent about the first 50 years of my life never really considering the idea of usability. Then, like a burst of explosive diarrhea, at once, proponents of usability are everywhere and a whole battery of usability people, a veritable profession has grown up around the misnomer.

The problem for me is today, everything is harder to use than it's ever been. What's more, everything you do use extracts more time, information or effort from the user. All so the company behind the canard of usability can squeeze every last sou from your dual authenticated bank account.

There are so many examples I can give of bad usability. And so few of good usability. 

Sure, there's an experimenter bias in usability. You're likely not to notice how smoothly something functions when it's usable. And you're likely to be irked by things, especially simple things, when they defy ease, logic and any normal-human level of patience.

Yes, I'm pissed this morning. 

I'm traveling through one of the least usable of all human inventions: the airport of a major metropolitan area. Having no carts makes a large airport unusable--especially since the derelict exertions of the airline industry mean you can't rely on getting your bag if you check your bag. Neither function is usable. The checking or the arriving. So you carry on.

But of course, there are no carts. The overhead bins are has-beens. Even in so-called business class, which is called that presumably because the airlines give you the 'business.' In the parlance of the old Bronx, they roll you like a drunk in a gutter and shiv you if you complain.

Let me start earlier regarding usability.

Let's start with something I used to take for granted.

A menu.

A menu on a piece of paper or a few sheets of scrap. Or a chalkboard.

Now, you get a QR code. And have to look at the menu on the phone and pay with your data for the right to order a hamburger. Plus, the type size on a phone screen is about six-point. And most designers of websites don't have the usability courtesy to choose thick, sans serif typefaces. So you can barely read the menu without pinching and scrolling and almost invariably getting redirected to a site that will "freeze away" your body fat.

This is what most QRenus look like to my old eyes. And I'm attempting to see them lit by the ersatz flickering bulb of a faux candle in a low-lumened barn invaded by too-loud music.

The plague of bad usability is almost everywhere. In our expensive hotel room, neither my wife nor I could figure out how to turn on or off the lights. There were more switches inside the room lit by tiny green LEDs and toggles and buttons, but we couldn't get the lights on or off. Everything is more complicated than a WW1-era German e-boat.

Both my wife and I have advanced university degrees in advanced university subjects. Throwing a switch up for on and down for off is no longer, somehow, acceptable. Turning a crevassed knob right or left for on or off is passe. 

It actually gets worse in the shower.

When the hotel gives you little bottles of unguents, I need those bottles to tell me one thing. What's inside? Is it shampoo? Conditioner? Bath gel? Body lotion (what else would you lotion? the furniture?) Again, like the QRenu above I can see nothing that tells me anything. What’s more, I don’t need a brand story on my lavender verbena nostril cleanse.

In fact, every "experience" the world subjects me to seems bent on robbing from me that last remaining trace I have of being a human being. 

When Vincent Sculley--not the baseball announcer but the Yale scholar called by Nazi-sympathizer Philip Johnson,"the most influential architectural teacher ever" wrote on the destruction of New York's grand Penn Station for the veritable money-maximizing shithole that replaced it, he said, [Once] one entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat."

A lot of what I do now in what might be the final dogged cataclysm of a life of feline failures is tell clients something really simple.

People like brands for the same reason they like people.

We like people who treat us with kindness.

We like people who respect us.

We like people who do what they say they're going to do.

We like people who are funny and fair.

All that is missing in my brands, including agency brands, in the world today. Even the notion that we should treat people well--not as "revenue to be maximized," is essentially alien.

So, from a usability-of-living POV, we now all scuttle about like rats.

Rats carrying too much luggage.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Intrinsic. Extrinsic. Sick.

Growing up when I did, the world was very different from the way the world is today.

I'd go so far as to say that in today's world we have lost, somewhat, the notion of "intrinsic" value. In fact, I think the Carl Ally agency's ad written by Ed McCabe for Horn & Hardhart's would never run today. It's all about real value. Not pretense. 

(BTW, today there are junior creatives who have won more awards than McCabe did over the entire course of his career. Trophied or atrophied reminders of the banality of a world without extrinsic value.)

Back in the anti-establishment 60s and 70s, a lot of the world I grew up in was a "show me the money-" world. Your worth, or the worth of a fast-foot joint, or maybe even a political candidate was based more on what you did than on how you boasted.

To my baby-blues, this began changing fast when designer jeans happened. All of a sudden a "last-a-lifetime" pair of Levi's that cost $10 that you bought in the Army-Navy were inferior to something cheap and trendy and ugly with embroidery on the back pockets. There was no intrinsic value in those jeans. Just social cachet.

Social cachet, expressed through a similarly named propellant, social media, is all that matters today.

I suppose the apotheosis of the Bombastocene Era is trumpism in the United States and whatever is going on right now in the United Kingdom.

New kinds of "leaders" have emerged. They have no vision. They have no track-record. They have few ideas. They don't even have the moxie to know how to pull the right levers.

They remind me in fact of the old advertising joke about a woman who was married 55 years and dies and goes before St. Peter, prior to admission to Heaven. Peter looks at her records and says, "You're very qualified, Mrs. Jones. But there's an anomaly here. You've been married 55 years, yet your papers show you're a virgin. How is this possible?" Embarrassed, Mrs. Jones answers, "Simple. My husband was in advertising. Every night he'd sit on the side of the bed and tell me how great it was going to be."

Proclamations of greatness have no place in advertising. Unless they're backed by facts.

Impossibly pretty people high-fiving over a garden salad have no place in advertising.

Superlatives, hyperbole, and the world's entire ecosystem of horseshit have no place in advertising.

To my jaded eyes, Advertising in the Bombastocene has been built on a web of lies about "the next great thing that will change everything."

Every agency (save mine) have a patented system backed by foolish cheaply produced "case study" videos that bolster the agency's spurious effectiveness claims. "We ran an ad on an old mussel shell we found on the beach and got 1.5 billion organic views! AND WE CAN DO IT FOR YOU!!!" 

The reason they're called Case Study videos is that you'd have to be a basket-case to actually believe any of them.

Every monopolistic company, from cable providers to airlines to phone companies to hotel chains have spots featuring the most banal veneer of how friendly their service is, and let's face it, service and treatment sucks, everywhere. 

In fact, I had to watch this Delta video above--a lying commercial, though I paid over $8000 for my seat and it was as uncomfortable as diarrhea on a roller-coaster.

I've lived through a lot of years in advertising. 

If I had a nickel for every time I heard about making an emotional connection through a plasticine smile from a plasticine actor in a plasticine situation so we would build a plasticine affinity for some horrid product or service, I'd be a rich man today.

Decades ago when I was a big cheese at a big New York agency, I was locked into a conference room with about 14 HR people. Someone had decided that a better creative evaluation form would help us become more creative. 

About an hour late for the meeting, my boss came in. He looked at us with disgust. "There's one thing that matters in a creative review form. Answer one question. It's Friday night. The pitch is Monday. Do you want them in on the weekend?"

And again, decades ago, I was working on a large New York-bank that has since been merged out of existence. The bank had a huge amount of retail business and attracted customers by offering often the best loan or interest rates in town.

A pretty banal claim.

I was down at the bank to present some work to a scion of the organization: a Senior Executive Vice President. He was late for my meeting and came into the conference room huffing and puffing.

"I was late and just ran up three flights of steps from the subway."

"You're a senior executive vice president of one of New York's largest banks and you take the Lexington Line?" I asked. "That's how the bank can offer such great rates. You're not lobster at Delmonico's. You're hotdogs at Sabrett's."

A senior executive vice president taking the subway so you can save $75/month on your mortgage shows caring. 

Fake smiles show not caring.

Or even thinking.


By the way, I did write a jingle for the bank.

To show them what not to do. 

"Happy people,
Smiling faces,
We've got banks in all
The right places,
We're blank en why,
Come on stop on by.
To blank en why.

We've got Mastercard and Visa,
We're making sure we always please ya',
We're blank en why,
Come on stop on by.
To blank en why.

We'll give a loan, 
We'll cash a check.
We always treat you
With respect,
We're blank en why,
Come on stop on by.
To blank en why.


Monday, September 26, 2022

A Crash Ha-Shanah Story. My Father Takes Me Golfing.

I have a two-inch scar on the inside of my left elbow that I got from watching my father play golf.

Sometime around the time I was nine, my father was well-enough recovered from his most recent heart attack so that he was able to persuade my mother into letting him play golf. I don’t know that my father actually even liked golf. However, he had achieved enough career success on his way to his heart attacks and had rubbed enough elbows with enough successful advertising people who did enjoy golf, that my father felt obligated to play the game and probably obligated to say he enjoyed it.

I wasn’t privy to the pre-game conversation my mother and father had about my father playing. But I assume at the end of it my mother reluctantly conceded. My father could play golf as long as my father took either me or my brother along and rode an electric cart. There would be no carrying a golf bag for my father. No walking up hills. No strenuous activity. My father was still recovering from his infarction.

[Of all the things that have scared and scarred me in my life, perhaps the most indelible was seeing my father arrive home from the hospital to the house he worked so hard to afford. There were nine steps up to his bedroom. He would lift one leg, wait, then lift the other leg to the same step. Climbing those nine steps probably took him 45-minutes. It's hard when you're nine to see your father as the walking dead.]

The only other wrinkle of the day is that it was Rosh ha-Shannah. Neither of my putative parents had a shred of religiosity in them and my father had an outright hatred of rules of any kind and regarded ritual as the hobgoblin of little minds. Nevertheless, to play golf on Rosh ha-Shannah in full view of the neighbors, Gentile and Jew alike was uncool. The Jews would disparage you for violating a Holy day. The Gentiles, for getting a day off without their approval.

However, my mother conceded something she did with the frequency of an honest politician and allowed my father out. She was as stubborn as a glacier. Maybe she needed some time alone—my father had been convalescing at home for a good two months. Maybe she simply wanted him out of the house. Maybe she thought the fresh air and an afternoon with his son would be good for him. Maybe it was my father's ability to quip his way through any situation that finally wore her down. "The ol' ticker still has a lot of life in her," he would say when asked how he was feeling. "Ol' blue eyes will be back in no time."

My brother was older than me and was slyer and craftier than I was at getting out of things like accompanying my father. Maybe he used his guile to extricate himself. Maybe, on the other hand, he had some school event or a sleepover party. Whatever the case, I had to go with my father and watch him play.

My father’s reward to me for going with him was he allowed me to drive the electric cart. The cart, though it had but three wheels (two in the back and one in the front, which turned with the steering wheel) was as close to driving a car as a nine year old could get. Wow, I thought. I’m driving. Braking. Speeding up. Slowing down. Driving. Look at me, I’m driving.

I watched as my father got out of the cart on the first tee and selected a club. I’ve lost half my father, I thought to myself. He used to be a big man. A football type gone to seed. Now he was spindly, long and bony. Worse, he walked slowly, like he was on ice and afraid to fall. I had known my father had been sick but it wasn’t until I watched him on the course that I knew how sick he was.

He hit the ball and made his way, on ice, back to the cart.

“That was good, Dad.”

He answered with a platitude. Something like “Oh, I’ll be hitting them further than that once I get my sea legs.” Or “Feels good to get back on the ol’ horse after she throws you.” Or “It ain’t Arnold Palmer, but that wasn’t half bad, was it?”

We continued with our platitudes for most of the afternoon. My father hitting the ball. Returning to the cart and then driving with me until he had to hit it again.

“Nice, Dad.” I’d say.

And he’d respond quickly, eagerly, jokingly with something like, “The old fella’s still got it.”

Occasionally I’d escort him from a shot back to the cart, or take a club myself to dig through the woods in search of a lost ball, or I’d rake the neat white sand of a trap after he visited one.

That was pretty much the afternoon. A sunny day in the early fall, with few others on the course. My father hitting the ball. Me driving the cart.

Then we came to a hill. Maybe midway through the course. It was a downhill and the path down which carts were to travel was studded with small rocks. To my nine-year-old eyes, the path looked good for sledding. It seemed steep and treacherous and so perfect for careening in the snow.

“Dad, I don’t think I can handle this,” I said.

He looked at me, slightly annoyed, and then leaned over on the single seat we shared and navigated the cart down the hill. Or tried to. Halfway down the hill we hit a protruding stone. It upended the cart. The cart turned over, my father’s clubs snapping in half against its weight, one of the halved clubs’ shafts cutting deep into my left elbow. The cart toppled on top of us.

My father lay dead on the ground. My right hand filled with blood as I tried to stop the bleeding from the gash on my elbow. I ran for the clubhouse to try to get help. I found two men there who quickly drove over the course in a white Plymouth station wagon to where my father lay.

The cart was over on its side. His clubs were strewn and bent. The men ran toward him. I wasn’t as fast and trailed a bit behind.

By the time I got there the men had my father sitting up. He breathed deeply and slowly.

He looked at me. Saw the blood on my arm, my pants, my shirt. The two men helped him to his feet and led him toward the Plymouth.

Finally he said to me, “Guess that one got away from me, eh, son? I never even saw what hit me.”

The men in the Plymouth called various local doctors to try to get some help. But most of the doctors were Jewish and were taking the day off. As Jewish doctors had been doing for almost 6,000 years.


Ultimately, a cardiologist was found, Jewish, and my father spent the whole way to the hospital apologizing for playing golf during the holiest of days.

Whenever anyone asked, he'd quip, "I got in a fight with the big caddy in the sky."


And L' Shanah Tovah.

Friday, September 23, 2022

As I Lay Lying.

If you believe in the old-fashioned ways like I do that being in advertising should be the equivalent to being in the truth business, there's an essay in Thursday's New York Times that you should spend four or nine-minutes reading.

While the article is about the Lieocracy of d*na*ld tr**p and his millions of enablers, it's really about the compound interest that lying generates. You can read it here. 

It’s common to think of money compounding interest but we don’t often think about lies and how they appreciate and add to their mass. But one lie in life, love, politics and business smashes like a mirror and refracts light like a fractal prism spreading its yuck wherever it propagates. Lies beget lies beget lies beget lies. Until you are so far away from the truth that you can never, really, make your way back.

I'm afraid such a pattern has already happened in American politics and is spreading worse than a cancer throughout every other branch of what's left of our society.

If you ask me, someone who was raised by a liar and therefore sensitive to prevarication, half-truths and outright lies of all stripes, there are dozens of channels, services and businesses that have grown up that help in the spreading of lies. If I were elegant, I would create an acronym, LIE…lie impelling ecosystem.

In advertising, LIEs include the trade press who reprint agency press releases under the guise of news. Also, the awards-industrial complex who routinely propagate false work into false claims of genius or quality and then concoct, around those falsehoods, notions like network of the year, etc that have as little legitimacy as so many other conventional measurements, like JD Power awards, Yelp reviews and almost every other spurious calibration that supports our lying flack-o-system, including the rampant bullshit from advertising case studies that infect so virulently our vanishing industry.

If you turn on TV or open a magazine, digital or paper, every ad you see sucks, yet the Cannes Festival of Advertising hands out hundreds of awards, including in 2022 32 Grand Prix, amassing over $25,000,000 in entry fees from over 30,000 entries. There are over 900 other award shows that to a lesser or greater degree follow that pattern. This is LIE, the lie impelling ecosystem.

The real trouble with lying is its self-generating effects. Lies grow until you have an agency dubbed hot which in reality is on the brink of insolvency. Or a "best place to work" when no one over 50 or 60 or of color are permitted within its creaky doors and where the attrition rate hovers in the mid-forties. 

Then of course comes the apotheosis of lying—lying at its apogee. That’s just about how so much is now.

The apogee is scaled when no one can tell any more truth from falsehood, who’s good, who sucks, what’s real and what’s phonus balonus. Worse, no one anymore knows what good work even is. Because good is a function of awardness--not what once had been a fairly broad acceptance of quality. Awards--which used to guide us are often no such guide. 

So, the lies multiply. 

We exist under a pay-to-play system. A system well-gamed by the well-financed and well-shameless.

You have to enter shows because ostensibly being "award-winning" attracts clients and talent. But if there's no linkage between what's being judged and reality. We're living a lie and being judged as well by a false standard.

If you know, at all, Shakespeare, you know that when the universal order was disrupted, chaos ensued. That's where we are now.

Fair is foul and foul is fair. The battle is lost and won. The world is topsy-turvy. Not to mention Tiny Topsy.

I know I’m not the only one who sees this.

I'm just maybe the only one no longer willing to silently cede my soul to the lies.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Reading and Feeding Your Brain.

Sometime before my wife and I headed out to Lisbon, I heard--I'm not sure exactly how--about a book called Os Lusiadas, an epic poem written by Luis Vaz de Camoes.

Os Lusiadas, first published in 1572 is the foundation story of the Portuguese people. It follows the Portuguese driving the Moors out of what they considered their land. It recounts the bloody kingly wars for independence from Spain. But mostly it heralds the bravery and genius of Vasco de Gama, the first European to round the horn of Africa and make his way to the Indian subcontinent.

de Gama's journeys, his establishment of Portuguese settlements in India, like Goa, and his role in the explosive growth of the spice trade quite literally changed the world. For a couple of decades, de Gama's explorations led to the tiny, poor and lightly-populated land of Portugal becoming the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

Even until the 1970s, Portugal had African and Asian colonies--the populations of which dwarfed Portugal's own.

I've been enjoying the Lusiads immensely. But, being an American, and therefore from a culture that has done a creditable job of destroying its past, before arriving here I didn't reckon that anyone in Portugal would know very much about the epic.

It turns out, nearly everyone did.

And everyone corrected my absolutely horrid pronunciation.

What's interesting to me is how different cultures accept their past and their very often sordid, violent and racist histories. In fact, in the wake of the Queen's death last week, I saw a spate of tweets castigating her as a horrible person because of England's long history of subjugating, if not genocidal, colonialism.

America, of course, has to reckon with a similar set of circumstances. 250 years of slavery and at least 100 years of Jim Crow and racism, not to mention legal "separate but equal" policies that were separate but never even remotely equal. These policies persist, at least in a de facto manner today. 

The problem in dealing with all this is more than just a problem of history. It's a problem of judging the past by the values of the present. Worse, it's allowing yourself to believe that today's values are absolute, true and inviolable. The final words in "truth."

Of course they are not.

This is not to say that I condone or endorse the various horrors of our past. But it is to say that I don't think we should brand all of our forerunners as irredeemably evil because they swam with the currents of the day.

Part of the problem many people have is that we don't have much sense of time. We don't realize how long history is and how the world is ever-changing. I laugh sometimes when I hear someone talking about some horror like 9/11 or Uvalde or January 6th and saying "Never Forget."

As humans we do forget.

I had a client not long ago who rewrote some of my copy. In her rewrite she used the phrase Never Forget. "You can't say that," I told her. "That's the shibboleth of the Holocaust."

However, before the Holocaust, it was used in reference to Pearl Harbor. A tragedy that I'd guess most Americans today have no understanding of. Neither does anyone know of Dien Bien Phu. The killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. The slaughters around the world. And even the facts of the Nazi Holocaust are being undone by our failing memories.

No real point here.

Just to say "read." Read a lot. Read about everything.

And like Buddha said, be gentle. 

No one knows what burdens we carry.

Only that we all carry burdens.

I read that somewhere.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022


I'm a sole-proprietor now and have been since I was booted from Ogilvy for having grey hair. I was making them money--way more than my salary. Clients liked me. Dozens of people within the agency looked up to me. And often, in a pinch (and agencies are always in a pinch) I was the one the higher-ups turned to.

I can only conclude that the mean-beans, the counter-counters who know price only and no value, those legume larcenists in charge had concluded that no one who had journeyed around the sun more than 45 times could possibly be worth having around. The holding company denied that, of course. Driveling on about harkening back. But as the Bible claimed it's easier to ride a camel through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven, I would imagine it's easier to ride a blue whale through a button-hole than to hear the truth from a corporate spokesperson.

In any event, I've been a sole-proprietor for almost three years now. In the wake of my TEDxLisbon talk last Sunday, I've been thinking how asinine the sole is in sole-proprietor.

First, there's Marta Gonzaga, the lovely, brilliant woman who coaxed me to Lisbon and advised me on what to do and what to expect. Then, my long-time friend and current business manager and advisor, Hilary. Hilary liked my first draft, hated my second and forced me into writing a third--which is what I went with. It's good to have friends who don't lower their standards, just because they're your friends.

Then there's my long-time and some-time partner, Sid. Sid not only clarified my thinking, he designed--about a dozen-times-over, my slides. My long-suffering wife, Laura, also a creative director advised on my script and helped me rehearse--something I hate doing. As did my two daughters, Sarah and Hannah. They gave me their approval--which isn't easy to get and is important.

Rob Schwartz gave me some valuable feedback, confidence and wardrobe advice. When you're as innately Oscar Madison as I am, you need all the assurance you can get. As always, Rob was there.

Finally, my friend Debra Fried was a one-person cheerleading squad. Reading and advising and encouraging.

All that, and probably some people I'm forgetting, for a solo job.

I love going it completely and utterly alone. 

Especially when I have so many friends and loved ones who come along with me.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

George Meets TedX.

Like many people of my generation, at least people I know who are around my age, I grew up heavily influenced by Looney Tunes cartoons. In fact, from about the age of six or seven on, if someone asked me how a school play or a science fair project or, later a client presentation or new business pitch went, there's about a seven-in-ten-chance I'd answer, "well, no one threw fruit at me."

The idea was that a butter-fingered juggler, a frog-throated singer, an unfunny comic or anyone generally inept and making a presentation would get pelted with rotten tomatoes if they stunk up the auditorium seemed perfectly normal to me. Getting hit in the nose with a fetid cabbage seemed a small price to pay for a bad performance.

All this to say, I gave my first--and I hope not my last TedX talk Sunday. Since then, many people have asked me how my talk went.

Well, as I often say, no one threw fruit at me.

People seemed to laugh at the funny bits and not laugh when I was teetering on the brink of the edge of the precipice of the border of profundity.

And after my talk, which lasted about 14 minutes--slightly less than the 15 to 18 minutes the Ted Industrial-complex recommends, many people came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed and agreed with my remarks.

Agreement is not always a sign of success, but as I've said, it beats having fruit thrown my way. 

Marta Gonzaga, the lovely person who organized TedXLisboa found me in the ash heap of LinkedIn, flew me to Lisbon, took me and my wife out to dinner and tolerated me, even after I missed rehearsals because I failed to look at my WhatsApp, tells me that the contents of the event will be posted soon. When they are, I will let my dear readers know.

In the meantime, below is the first draft of my talk. In it I ripped off Tibor Kalman's great piece "Fuck Committees." I wrote my version, "Fuck Machines."

I eventually pulled back from this. I tamed myself a bit, keeping only a small portion of what's below for dignity's sake. Nonetheless, though it's angry, here's my original draft. Maybe a 21st Century Howl, fueled by ice cream, not hallucinogens. I'll call it Bowl. Please throw no fruit.


Fuck machines.

Fuck the people, the money-crazed, the arbitraged, the perpetually optimizing,

the squeezers,

the tweezers,

the shareholder pleasers,

who pillage us,

who steal our data and get rich off it,

again and again and again,

selling it to anyone who will buy it

for any purpose,

good or mostly bad,

to fatten their billionaire bitcoin accounts

and moving on to the next victim or victims or people

or class or community or nation or global economy,

before they crash that and move onto the next rotten sphere

and steal their way upwards to mammon once again.


Fuck the machines,

the trillionaires who demand bridges be rebuilt because their

300-foot yachts are too big to sail beneath,

spewing carbon and the ashy detritus of lives wherever they go,

they destroy the past and the future with their

mechanizing mechanisms of mass mechanized destruction.


Fuck the machines,

who have eaten our privacy in return for our

complicity in destroying democracy,

in destroying responsibility,

in destroying integrity, honesty, kindness,

destroying any sort of evaluation that isn't built

on a machine-made calculus of graft and greed and grime.

And lies with the longevity of volcanic rock,

never eroding lasting longer than Pompei

and ode to the persistent plump of persevering pomposity.


Fuck the machines who give to their creators,

or those who stole credit for their creation,

ninety-nine dollars and seventy-five cents out of every hundred dollars,

leaving ninety-nine point seven five people without health, without hope,

without a chance in hell to escape the machine made

interstices that have tied up humanity in their pixeled possessive paws.


Fuck the machines

who have processorized work and working into

a maelstrom of meetings and spreadsheets where

the greatest action and reaction comes from pushing the

same piece of digital paper up a Sisyphusian hill until the

end of time or until you reach age thirty-seven-and-a-half,

whichever comes first and they throw you out like

a cosmic apple core browning and stinking to oblivion.


Fuck the machines,

who have calculated the cost of everything,

never recognizing the value of anything.

Who have binaried you balls to smithereens eliminating

love and lust and laughter from all life and long as we no longer live.

Fuck the machines,

who make sure a complaint is never solved,

a question is never answered and

satisfaction is as ancient a relic as a long-fanged asp at Cleopatra's lily breast.


Fuck the machines,

that make sure everything,

every plane trip, every meal, every hotel room,

every piece of particle board humanity we are induced to purchase

is as decrepit and dumbed down as the last ding-dong of doom.


Fuck the machines.

Their insectization of our entire species,

where their promises of ease and comfort and quiet and rest

has created

with their mechanized menace

the soul-chomping opposite,

eating our hopes and loves and dreams and entire planet so

they, machines, can grow bigger and stronger as they grow

ever more all-consuming.


Fuck the machines

who trade our bodies for their bots.

That would turn you into a rusty cog,

dead and deadly,

lifeless and limp,

turning and spinning and whirring and

throwing off grey sparks until your gears are sanded down

and insaned and you

are nothing more than

digital disposable detritus

fucked by the human consumption machine

that takes your heart,

takes your love,

takes your soul,

takes your ambitions, hopes, dreams, fears, laughter and hate,

and uses them as fuel

to run itself in

perpetual motion,

its perpetual motion fueled by your perpetual inertia.


Fuck the human eating,

love eating

future eating,

got you dead and bleeding,

leave you always poor and needing,


can't hear your pleading,



Fuck machines using humans.

Fuck machines transforming us into their tools.

Fuck machines eating our data, our privacy, our creativity, our jobs, our lives.

We are humans.










You and me.