Wednesday, November 30, 2022

You Don't Pays Your Money.

For about 30-years now, I've been saying--without real foundation--that the advertising industry is a low-wage industry. That could be because I sent my children to one of New York City's elite private schools and one-third of the parents worked in finance, one-third for one of the big law firms and one-third made so much money, you had no idea what they did. I think one or two other parents worked in advertising. When there were giant fundraisers, we sat in the back and tried to be invisible. 

So on the basis of the people I was hanging out with, this guy at Lazard-Freres, this woman at Goldman, this guy at Paul Weiss and this woman who was head of oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, I judged that there was no one in the advertising industry, not even the holding company potentates or LPAs (lead Ponzi activators) that came close in income to the people at the head of my un-peered peer group.

However, I had no proof.

I knew, or suspected, that in real dollars salaries in the 21st century were lower than those of the 1970s. And certainly advertising people in the 2020s were not able to live as well as those in the high-flying mad-men era.

I remember finding out that a friend of mine in 1994, a Group Creative Director was making $192,000. My partner who was an Executive Creative Director was given the lease on a Saab (the agency had the account) and even at my first time at Ogilvy, from 1999-2004, I was given a premium executive healthcare, an $8000 car allowance and $3000 parking allowance. That sort of sweetening did not exist (at least for me, the mere Copy Chief and ECD of the New York agency.)

As old married people do, my wife and I seem to read good portions of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal aloud to each other. I think this is an affectation of aging. Or at least of our times.

So much in the paper and the world is so outrageous you almost have to say it out-loud to let go of the outrage toxins. Half the shit you see you shouldn't keep inside you. It's like suppressing a sneeze. I don't think it's good for your innards.

I read not long ago, and thanks to my eidetic memory I've stored it, that the median salary of the Interpublic Group was $59,800. It was even lower over at Omnicom; $50,600. That means in the case of IPG, 50-percent of its employees make more than $59,600 and 50-percent make less.

Ouch. (An average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New York is $5,000. Life is even more costly across the river in Jersey City, where the average rent is $5,500. In other words at a median salary, you can't come close to affording the rent on an average apartment.)

Now, here's where my wife chirped, from the "Heard on the Street" column of "The Wall Street Journal."

The median worker at Meta earned $292,785 last year. Here's some more wage data from the frighteningly reactionary WSJ.

My point is simple.

And to my eyes pretty scary.

Advertising used to pay well. Money, plus creativity, plus a soupcon of glamor allowed the industry to compete--at least somewhat--for some of the best and the brightest. 

Now the money is better elsewhere. The glamor is gone. And rarely do I see something I consider creatively interesting.

Fairfax Cone, the C of the IPG agency FCB, once said, "The inventory goes down the elevator every night." There's an inference in that that you should take care of your inventory. At least if you want to compete for the best talent. 

And if agencies/holding companies can't compete for the best talent, how do they compete at all?

Cone's quotation might be re-written in fact for today. "Without offering competitive wages and rewards, how do I get the inventory to come up the elevator every morning?"

That seems to be yet another issue in the advertising industry that no one is talking about.

Maybe Cannes should give a Zirconian Lion for the most underpaid creative team working on a spot that no one paid for, so millionaire holding company chieftains can enjoy rosé on 160-foot yachts in the south of France.

Then people might pay attention.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Persistence of Memory.

I wrote something last week about the old Carl Ally agency, or its renamed successor agency, Ally & Gargano. When I was at the later permutation from 1990 to 1995, I stumbled upon a sheet of paper with the agency mission typed on it in that ancient courier typeface. I liked it and quickly memorized it.

Soon after I posted that, I got a note from the great Ron Berger, one of the most-storied of Ally's copywriters, who later founded an agency, Messner Berger Vetere Carey Schetterer that eventually turned into EuroRSCG and now Havas.

I asked Ron if I could repost our conversation, and he kindly said yes. I hope you learn as much from Ron as I did.

And here, at long last is the point of today's post. I realize I could be wrong in that I am both a student and a practitioner of advertising, so I pay, in all likelihood undue attention to advertising.

I wrote back to Ron that his Fiat ad (which I searched for and couldn't find) and the work that Ammirati & Puris did for BMW "The Ultimate Driving Machine," are still etched in my brain--50 or more years after they originally ran.

That, in brief, is the power of a powerful thought. As Rob Schwartz, CEO of the TBWA Group in New York once said to me, the most valuable real estate in the world is owning a piece of someone's brain.

Like "four score and seven years ago." Like Shakespeare's "St. Crispin's speech, "
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me/ Shall be my brother;..." Like "I have a dream." Like "Ask not..." Like "I can't get no..." And so on.

While the mania of our industry seems to impel us to "cultural relevance," whatever that means, culture in today's world lasts about as long as a fart in a windstorm. 

However, the real power of communications lays in creating a seminal summary thought that captures a spirit and, if this isn't too pompous, an ethos we aspire to.

If I had a dime for every client who's said to me, "I need something like IBM's "Smarter Planet," (which hasn't been used for almost ten years," or Dove's "Real Beauty," or Apple's "Think Different," which might be thirty-year's dormant, I'd have at least fifty cents now.

My point is simple.

The real power of advertising is that, at its best, it can be more than ephemeral trend-surfing. It can be a deep, well-carved permanent installation like the Elgin Marbles. It can weather brand storms and stormy CMOs who blow--worse than a storm--hot and cold. The real power of advertising, when it is good and innate and truly true to the brand and helps center it as well, is that it is enduring. It can lead and guide.

But that can't happen--it seldom happens now--because clients change CMOs and brand-definitions as often as frat houses change rolls of toilet paper after their semi-monthly "Bean Burrito Bash."

My two cents:

Fuck culture.
Find truth.

Find a belief that is implicit to a brand. Express it artfully and memorably. And have the courage of your convictions that this expression is not a two-year thought or a ten-year thought. But is something to build a dream, and a fortune, on. 

Advertising can be more than just an interruption. It can be more than just a sales-enabler. More than just an announcement of another cosmic Toyotathon.

It can be the foundation of all actions a company and a brand takes. It can guide workers, management, and consumers. Much like the foundation myths of America or the United Kingdom or any religion or any other enduring polity have--at least somewhat--guided them.

We need to stop thinking of advertising as expensive, trend-chasing ephemera. When it is more. It can be a cost-effective and life-saving lighthouse.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Time. Not on Your Side.

One of the (many) things I think our species gets consistently wrong is time. In Pulitzer-Prize-winner Ed Yong's new book, "An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us," (pictured above) Yong compares human senses to those of animals to show how narrow and limited we are. How despite occupying the same planet with so many remarkable creatures, we make humans the measure of all things, and consider other species as "others." We normalize the planet for ourselves--and look at dogs, dolphins, crows, osprey as "weirdos."

But let me switch to the human realm and Matthew Green's "Shadowlands: A Journey Through Britain's Lost Cities and Vanished Villages," pictured above.

So much of our "breaking news," "living-for-the-next-quarter" culture is sullied by "in-the-moment-ness," we forget that what passes for our planet is been changing constantly for the roughly 4.6 billion years since the Big Bang.

Even since Homo Sapiens arrived on the scene, about 200,000 years ago, we've been changing course like a butterfly in a cyclone. It's easy to walk down the street and see yet another new chain store and think, "Just two-years ago, there was a really good diner there. It had been there forever." Except to modern human sensibilities, forever is about five years. 

In reality, the way we measure time and the way our universe measures time are as different as a mensch and donald trump. They simply don't align. 

If you think about how the Ancients charted the stars or how they knew where giant pods of whales would be when, it's because they studied these things for hundreds of years--each generation adding to the details and knowledge of the generations that came before. Maps weren't digitized, they were prized and passed-on as received (literally) knowledge.

If you ever wondered how our forerunners spread out from Africa all over the globe--how they got to Siberia or East Asia for instance, it seems nearly impossible with our modern concept of time. But if you understand that to get to China from the Land of Lucy, humans only had to travel a mile a year for 9,000 years, well, that's a relative snap.

Things are worse in Amerika than they are in most everywhere else in the world, because we Americans think we invented the continent. We here have nothing, in an Asian, European, African sense of the word, old.

At least that's the way we see it.

We New Yorkers think of pre-war buildings as old--when they're about 100 years of age. We don't know of Clovis points found in Clovis, New Mexico about 90 years ago. They date from approximately 20,000 BC to 11,000 BC.  Yet the town of Clovis, NM, population 39,000, celebrated its 'centennial' in 2009. There are a million instances like that--from the shell mounds in America's southeast to Ahokia in the midwest, to the adobe cities in the southwest. And no one knows for sure, when, or how long the Kelp Highway, brought people from Asia to the Americas.

My point is simple.

We think of time almost cataclysmically. That it's running out. That we are millenarians and are nearing the rapture or the end times, or Elizabeth Kolbert's (another Pulitzer-winner's) Sixth Extinction. 

And we may be.

What do I know? I grew up with mis-matched socks in Yonkers, New York and I'm a self-employed copywriter.

However, if you read Shadowlands, any book about "long history," you'll see that the earth itself is not a permanent structure. Cliffs fall into the sea. Rivers change course. Fertile land becomes desert. And once great cities sink into the ground and disappear. Change is what is normal. Permanent is as fantastical as fire-breathing dragons, unicorns and WPP hiring someone over 35.

Of course, as humans, we want permanent. We want our IRAs, and our mortgages paid, and college funds for our grandchildren. We want to believe that we have some control over the future and that we can stop the ever-moving, ever-destroying hands of time.

I suppose a lot of the world's current descent into authoritarianism is because so many people see things changing in ways not to their liking as if, we, humans have something to say about that.

If I ever again had to toil within the pre-fab walls of a razor-thin-margined-holding-company agency, I'd get in every morning at 8AM. I'm a believer in going into the office. I'd settle myself in a conference room and I hold court on the idea of long-history--as it applies to our species, and more specifically as it applies to our industry.

I'd talk about how the most successful marketing campaigns in human history, those from nations like the United Kingdom, the United States, most world religions and major brands like Nike, Apple, Fed Ex, the Economist and maybe one or two others, don't do campaigns that last two years, or five or even more a decade. The most successful marketing campaigns last for centuries. I'd guess, and I could be wrong here, that campaigns don't start etching into human consciousness until they last at least five years--after two years, they're not even launched.

We ought to think about things that improve with time, grow with time, last through time. Bernbach called them "simple, timeless human truths."

Not just keeping up with the times.


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Five Things I'm Not Thankful For.

Legal Lies.

I spent the first 45 years of my life not needing to fill out terms-and-conditions when I sent a note or a thought, got the news, bought something or watched a movie or TV show. When I went to a candy store or the A&P, there was a long lawyer-convoluted set of Jarndyce and Jarndyce prevarications.

Outside of "No shoes, no shirt, no ceviche," life was pretty simple. Now Apple's latest legal disclaimer is 8,154 words long, twenty-two pages of single-spaced type. And according to, scores a readability letter-grade of D. No shoes, no shirt, no ceviche gets an easy A.

"We care-ism."

I'll tell you what I want from companies--and from people. I want you to do your job well and treat the environment and the people who work for you with kindness.

If you make hamburgers, make a good hamburger. Pay your people a living wage. Pour out your rancid grease now and again and clean up your litter, or don't make it in the first place. 

When you've done all that, then you can solve the greater problems of the world.

Until then, be proud of what you do. If you make burgers--make a great one. If you're an ad agency, make great ads. And so on. 
You ain't saving the world. You're trying to get PR as if you're saving the world.

Press-releases passing as news.

Press-releases regurgitated by "journalists," and sycophants are all over social media. 

WPP has won more "network of the year" awards than there are networks, or than there have been years. Not a single journalistic organ other than this blog has noted that WPP has shed roughly 45% of its workforce since 2015--from 190,000 people to 100,000 people, its C-suite makes on average 300x the median wage of its employees, and its attrition rate hovers at 40%--meaning every 2 1/2-years they turn-over completely.

If this is the network of the year, the ad industry is in bigger trouble than it even realizes.


What started as glowing veneration of saints--hagiography, that is glorification passing as biography--has infected our entire world.

The pedestal-ization of Mammon-seeking missiles like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Holmes, Sheryl Sandberg, and about 9-billion others is a sickening display of the triumph of prodigious wealth and power over reason. 

Rich does not equal virtue. We seem to have forgotten those maxims about it being easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to get to have.

Yet, we have given these-eaters-of-the-poor the power to aggrandize themselves with monuments to their "generosity," forgetting that their vast wealth and influence have excused them from paying taxes.

They're the only people in society who get to choose where they send their money--then stick their names in every corner of whatever phallic edifice they donate to. New York has more hospitals with the name David Koch on them than it has stop signs with the letters STOP. Even benevolent Bill Gates and his vaunted foundation would be many times smaller if, he were taxed at the same percentage rate that I am. It's nice that these potentates give their money away. But I'd rather they pay their taxes and then give to charity. 


I can't for the life of me understand what it means for an advertisement to be a part of culture. Yet I hear that insipidity so often I question my own sanity.

In today's balkanized, coming-apart world there are almost as many cultures as there are people. It's been about 30 years since I've seen someone represented in a TV commercial who comes from any culture that's as close to mine as a triceratops is to a Porky Pig.

How about doing instead what Bernbach implored--finding simple, timeless, human truths. 

Not banal, temporary fads and trends.

Carl Ally coined the best agency mission statement ever. "To impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way." 

That's good enough for me. And an important enough job. I'll leave culture to others. My job is to make brands understood and likeable so people prefer them. That's hard--don't make it harder by looking at what I do through a culture prism, too. I also don't know what culture means. And I guarantee, my culture is different from yours. In fact, it's different from my wife's. 


This will be my last post until Monday, November 28. Have a peaceful Thanksgiving. Smile at a stranger. Say please and thank you. And use your turn signals. Small things that could make our world better.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Harkening Back. Looking Ahead.

About 40 years or so ago, when I was still in the full-bloom of youth, my wife and I (she was then my girl-friend) took a trip to the Caribbean.

While so many people bring beach reads to the beach, I'm more demanding of myself. I chose to bring a book that might help give me a view of the Caribbean as it was before it was sullied by European invasion, colonialism, exploitation and slavery. When the populace was still Taino and Carib, without the influence of what we call without a trace of irony, Western civilization.

[Aporcryphally, when a journalist said to Gandhi, "What do you think of Western civilization?" Gandhi remarked, "I think it would be a good idea."]

So, I brought along one of the first novels in the English language so as to time-machine myself to essentially pre-Columbian times. I brought along "Robinson Crusoe."

Since that time, I've made a habit--a passion even--of diving deep into the classics. Virtually every time I travel somewhere, I try to read that country's creation myth or epic or something seminal.

So, I've read Don Quixote while in Spain--I'm not sure anyone should visit Spain without having read Quixote. Virgil's Aeneid while in Italy. Homer's Illiad and the Odyssey while in Greece, the Lusiads, while recently in Portugal and more. I've also read Gilgamesh--though Americans are hardly allowed in Iran and my share of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to try to gain some sense of Russia.

A lot of people in today's world shy away from books like these because they have the misbegotten notion that they're somehow boring, overly baroque and complex, and so hard to understand as to be practically illegible. 

Even the famous first sentence of another of one of the first novels in English, "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman," by the unsurpassed Laurence Sterne, while difficult is well-worth the effort. Critics say it reduces Melville's "Call me Ishmael," to the equivalent of a tweet--but writing like this enriches your mind as it challenges you.

However, many think for whatever reason that the ancients didn't have lusts, desires, subterfuges, banalities, jealousies and so on. They think of anyone not from today as somehow not being relevant to today.

One of the reasons I read such books is to find the universal. The Wyfe of Bath's Tale, in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is as filthy and funny as anything you'll ever read or see. The Thousand and One Arabian Nights have more intrigue and lust than you'd find in a dozen contemporary soap operas. 

But our perception is that these people are not like us. They're prehistoric, somehow.

I read somewhere something about the turn-of-the-century photographs you see in museums or old textbooks. They make it look like the 1890s or 1910s were a monochrome world. That their clothing was about as bright as an old gas station oil rag after a year of hard work. 

The truth is hundreds of years ago people dressed and reveled in the same colors we did. But photographs fade and we take the fading as reality and look no further.

I bring this all up because as a society we seem to have forgotten the universality of humankind. We think that humans in 2022 have a different attention span, a different sense of humor, different ideas about sex and hate and joy and pain than we do.

On social media, I cringe when I read things about how today's consumer is cynical about ads as if 50 years ago people weren't. Or that today's consumer has a short attention span because they're so busy and consumers from my youth, or earlier, had time to fritter away.

I guess it's a simple, timeless, human truth that each era and each generation and each culture wants to think of itself as somehow different and better than what's gone before. That we're evolving into a perfectible species, and with proper education we'll as a species obviate pettiness and prejudice and every other vice.


I believe there's more that unites us across the millennia than differentiates us. Achilles might never have eaten a Tostino's pizza roll, but he was pissed when Patroclus was killed and he showed his wrath in a way I might show my wrath. No, I wouldn't drag my enemies corpse through the dust around a city eight times, but I do something awful to hurt as I've been hurt. Likewise, when Agamemnon took Briseis from Achilles, if my boss today did something similar, I might "quiet quit," too.

My point is really simple.

Before you proclaim that everything's different and people have fundamentally changed or this generation is different from all that ever were, do yourself a favor, pick up an old book, put aside some old biases and read for a little bit.

It couldn't hurt and it may help.

Monday, November 21, 2022

It's Still the Same Old Story.

I had a call the other day from a young student in Anthony Kalamut's advertising program at Seneca College in Toronto.

Anthony and I have never met, never spoken and have exchanged very few messages. But over the years, Anthony has shown himself as a friend of the industry, an educator of young minds, and a champion of creativity. That's enough for me to consider him a friend. As anyone who knows me knows, there's very little I won't do for someone I consider a friend. To me, that's what makes the world go-round. Treating others--even if you don't know them--as you would like to be treated. Or even better.

The young student who got ahold of me was smart.

I get hit with a lot of requests. What's more, in the 140-weeks since I was fired from Ogilvy for MTTMMAHGH (making them too much money and having grey hair) as each week has gone by I've been busier than the week before. It stands to reason that last week, then, was my busiest ever.

My wife said to me early in the morning as we were getting ready to face our days, "if you're so busy, why do you take these calls? Why don't you give yourself the hour--and put the call off?"

There's no real way to answer that except to say that talking to a young person with brains, energy, enthusiasm and a burning desire to learn does more for an old-person's morale and reason-for-being that twenty sessions with the good Dr. Lewis, my therapist of approximately 1,500 sessions. 

What the holding companies can't or won't understand, for all their pablum about the virtues of diversity, is that successful communities, businesses, governments and social organizations since the beginning of human time roughly 200,000 years ago, or 5,000 for all those who believe in the literal word of the bible, have melded together generations.

It's Marx who said it, but regardless of your politics it bears thinking about this: "From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs." That ain't just about the redistribution of capital and wealth. It's also about the redistribution--the sharing and the teaching--of knowledge. A world where elders and young people don't interact is Lord of the Flies, or what I call Lord of the Wire Paper and Plastics.

The young student I met was prepared with questions. Hard questions in that they couldn't be sloughed off with simple yeses  or nos. What is your secret of success? Who do you learn from? How do you get work done? What do you do when you have no ideas?

Before all that, I gave this young student something it took me almost thirty years to learn:

Don't be afraid of people like me. Further, don't be timid because you think you're asking a lot of me and I'm doing you a favor.

Those anxieties can lead to paralysis. They can lead you to putting things off. They can force you to look look look look, and never leap.

If there's someone you want to talk to, consider this. 

You have a different perspective than they do. You have something to teach them. And they have something to teach you. In short, you're not asking for a favor by asking them to speak to you. You're doing them a favor by offering them a small slice of your neurons with a schmear of synapses thrown in.

Since the rise of what Pulitzer-prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert called the Sixth Extinction, aka, the Anthropocene Era, a time in which humankind's influence on our planet could destroy it, talking about sustainability and the circular economy has been very au courant. 

Briefly, the circular economy has us not throwing things out, but using the materials we have, in one form or another, for as long as we can. 

The circular economy should, to my eyes, include people. That's how the evolutionary cycle of our species is supposed to work. The old nurture the young until the young nurture the old.

The reason I'm so pissed at the WPP's of the world for having fewer than two-percent of their employees above 60 years of age, and less than nine-percent 50 and up is two-fold.

One, they sweep it under the rug. They trumpet diversity while actively destroying it. They do nothing except ignore the heinous injustice and abnegation of their very own workforce. They're so blind to their colossal error that they even publish the data in their annual report.


Two, it ignores the natural order of things. It's as mean, violent and destructive as strip-mining or fracking. It takes out, uses up and turns beauty into slag. Destroying or firing people is as unsustainable as throwing out a 2021 model-year Porsche because you want a 2023 model. 


By the way, the poster I've chosen to illustrate this post was the product of my pen and my too-brief partnership with Milton Glaser. He took my words and made them beautiful. 

There's a story about how I happened to be in his brownstone one morning sitting at his work-table and talking about what to do for a pre-school associated with Columbia University. But this post is long enough. So it will have to wait.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Strega Nightmare.

There was a story I used to read to my daughters called Strega Nona, by Tomie di Paola. 

In it, Big Anthony is asked by Strega Nona to watch over her magic pasta pot. Big Anthony gets curious and asks the magic pot for pasta. But he doesn't know how to make the pasta stop flowing. In short order, their small town is covered in pasta.

Every once in a while, a client calls me and says, "George, I need your help. My website sucks. Can you make it unsuck?"

I'm an inherently generous person--most creatives are. We like to lend our minds and whatever skill we have in helping clients. 

So, I say yes.

It happened to me not long ago.

But the due-date was far in the future. So while I usually attack jobs right away, this one I put off. 

In fact, I put it off too long. To the point where I'm in trouble.

Ok, I said to myself, don't panic. Take one page at a time. Do that page. Then do the next. And you'll get through it in no time.

When I'm given a job like this one, I always do the groundwork first. I make a folder. Download the files. And build the shell of a copy-deck. 

I find those operations tedious. But important. If I do them before I start writing, in a sense I know what I have to do and where it all is. It's like measuring out ingredients before you cook a meal. It's onerous. But ultimately time-saving.

Here's where Strega Nona and Big Anthony come in.

The copy I'm re-writing--the copy the client's written keeps getting longer. When I rewrite five lines, twelve more appear. I rewrite a subhead, and the bottom of the page explodes with 18 more I have to do. 

The copy keeps going and growing and spilling, filling and killing like Strega Nona's pasta pot. I don't know the magic words to shut it off.

I've rewritten all the headlines.

Nine more appear.

I've taken out 62 instances of the word ecosystem, 91 more pop up. I remove those 91, 132 more appear.

I cross out storytelling. Then... 


It doesn't stop.

It never ends.

It keeps on coming.

And that, my friends, is my nightmare.

And my life as a very one-person agency.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Do You Care?

About a decade ago, I was an Executive Creative Director at the world's most-awarded and most prominent digital agency with a virgule in its logo. It seemed to me then that about once every-twenty minutes someone would assert that consumers wanted to "lean-in," and get involved with advertising.

Most of the time I'd shut the fuck up and just ignore such deluded proclamations. But once, I suppose I was feeling especially cantankerous, I said something like, "I don't know about you, but when I get home at night, the last thing I want to do is lean-in. I want to sit in a comfortable chair with a nice cold glass of seltzer, watch the Knicks lose and lean-back."

I was excoriated for that, of course. One, because I'm old and therefore past my leaning-in prime. And two, because unlike me, a denizen of the Upper East Side, no one in Williamsburg has a TV, so leaning back is as impossible as trump doing pilates.

Over the last thirty years or so, or the last 42--since I started making a living in advertising, I've heard all sorts of things that will make our commercials and ads more effective. 

I heard a story once about a research group, Starch, coming into an agency and telling creatives to start commercials with a bell or gong sounding. Or that the brand name has to be in the first seven seconds.

I've heard everything from having the creative open with a chime and the client's logo, to repositioning the "click now" button depending on where you are in the "buy cycle." I've heard that we should make ads that don't look like ads. I've heard having a phone number up at all times would drive response. And about one-thousand other prescriptions for success, including disease-spreading open-plan workspaces and borderless creativity, also disease-spreading.

The thing that no one says, or no one remembers, is that people, in advertising and everywhere else should be treated with consideration, respect, kindness and as if they are intelligent. 

You hear a lot of bushwa about changing consumer behaviors precipitated by this new technology or, almost with astrological stupidity, based on the year they were born or the generation they're allegedly in.

You seldom hear anymore that old-fashioned and important truism: "We are uninvited guests into peoples' homes. Treat people with kindness and give them a reward so they're glad you dropped by."

Those two sentences seem like they should be in every client presentation deck and in every pre-pro book and as a pre-amble to every creative presentation at whatever stage in the process, whether internal or external.

Instead, the focus of advertising has become "what does the client want to say?" It's no longer "what does the customer need to hear?"

That's a simple shift, really. 

But I suppose going from bullet points to empathy is never easy. It demands thinking about who's buying what you're selling over who could potentially fire you for not doing as your told.

I read not long ago a very good book called "Making Numbers Count," by Chip Heath and Karla Starr. It starts with a premise that most people glaze over when they hear a lot of numbers. So in order to influence people, we have to make numbers mean something beyond integers. Mean something to humans.

Here's just one example of making communication sensate, human and real, so people actually care about it. It's a story about Grace Hopper, the first woman rear admiral in the US Navy and also one of the Navy's first computer experts.

That's our job put into as few words as I can.

We make people care about a brand or a product.

I'll say it again. To make you care.

We make people care about a brand or a product.In other words, no matter what you do, make it matter, make it mean something. Try to make people feel it.

I heard this line from an old blues song. Then I found out it was stolen from or appropriated by Brendan Behan. Its provenance doesn't matter. How it makes you feel does.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Service, Please.

It could be a function of growing older, virtually every store I go into, every airplane I fly on, every restaurant I eat in has service that's slightly worse than you'd find in a Soviet gulag.

It's easy to find exigencies to blame bad service on. People my age grew up in a different world--I'm told--and have different expectations. Also Covid. Also cell phones. (Since everyone seems to spend the day staring at them.)

But I think the issue is bigger. And I think bad service is not only endemic, it afflicts the advertising industry as well.

Worse, I think the roots of bad service--those things that lead to bad service--are built into the very structure of how companies treat people. Whether those companies are a bagel shop that specializes in getting your order wrong. A big box retailer that's always out of what you need. Or a holding company advertising agency that combines those two derelictions almost every day.

To my mind what's killed service--no matter what kind of business you're not getting it from--is the disconnect between the work you do and the future you have.

What's the point, after all, of working hard if your pay is low (while those in the C-Suite make 300x or more your salary) and will remain low until the day you're fired or you quit.

It's some rendition, really, of the old GIGO acronym: Garbage In; Garbage Out.

When you treat people as if they're replaceable parts and they can be fired any minute, they'll do very little for you. 

And why should they? After all, if they work hard and do good work, they won't be rewarded and they can still be fired at any minute. Why go the extra mile for a company that won't give you an inch? Why bust your ass for a company that will only bite your ass down the line?

Why should you give of yourself when you get nothing in return? Or, you don't care about me, why should I care about you?

Back when I was 20, I got a job as a night clerk, working the 4PM to midnight shift in the biggest liquor store in Chicago. A cavernous place on Rush and Walton across the street from various brothels, run by the Bragno brothers, whose first names I forget, primarily because I hadn't the temerity to even think of calling either of them anything but Mr.

I learned a lot about life from the Messers Bragno, a lot about how owners should treat even their lowest-level employee, which I was. Especially since I worked there when I wasn't of legal drinking age, using my older brother's name and social.

First off, at Bragno's the bosses worked. They waited on people. If someone needed a bag carried out to their car--either of the Bragno's would do it. Second, they paid well. At the time minimum wage was $2.30/hr. and they paid me $3.50, plus six guaranteed overtime hours at $5.25/hr. Third, they gave me a path toward advancement. They put me in charge of making sure the cigarettes at the cash registers were always stocked, and the miniatures and pints, as well.

Then, they let me wait on customers on Saturdays, so they taught me a bit about various wines and spirits. Fifth, when I worked nights, they always paid a cop to sit in the back and hang out. There was a button I was supposed to press in case there was a hold-up, but I never even came close. The cop made sure of that.

Finally, they always said please and always thanked me for doing my job well. And when my father would ring up the shop and ask me to bring him home a bottle, the Bragno's were always good for a nice discount--for the father of one of their employees.

I think that in many ways--if you have the power to extrapolate--many of the things the Bragno's did worked to keep their people happy and being dedicated. Many of the things they did apply to how people should be treated--and how they're not treated today.

People want more than a paycheck from a job.

They want some sense of belonging and loyalty.

They want some sense that they have a path to growth.

They want tasks that challenge them and that they can learn from.

They want an outlet for their ambitions.

If they come into a job poor, they don't want to leave four years later, or six or eleven almost as poor.

I am truly afraid that those simple, basic, human truths are forgotten by just about everyone who employs anyone else. There's this topsy-turvy notion that employees are supposed to feel lucky that they have a job. They're, therefore, supposed to give without expecting to get.

From the Bible on down, we're supposed to believe in the golden rule. We're supposed to treat people as we wish to be treated ourselves.

That seems lost today.

Just about everywhere.

I was always one of those people who recoiled when someone in an agency would cluck, "advertising is a service business." I believe we make a product--great ads and great thinking that drives reputation and sales. Servicing the client, is of course, a part of that. Listening. Responding. Challenging.

But every business has a commitment--or should have one--to those who work for them.

To serve their need for growth, fulfillment, compensation and more. 

Without serving employees service everywhere will continue to suck.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Big Advertising Rip-Off.

One of the things that absolutely no one even remotely associated with the advertising industry will ever own up to is that advertising itself is breaking (about 100,000 times every day) the foundational promises advertising as a practice was founded on.

Advertising began with a simple value exchange.

In exchange for your eyeballs, we'll give you news, entertainment, information, opinion, whatever you want at a lower cost than would otherwise be practicable.

If you think about the logistics of a great newspaper like the New York Times, with reporters around the world, brilliant editors, some of the world's best illustrators, photographers, thinkers and writers all in one place, and they'll deliver it to your door for a couple of bucks, that's unbelievable.  

That was made possible by advertising.

You probably got $50 worth of content for $10.

Same with TV.

Which until cable came around cost you nothing out-of-pocket. As in you could watch great actors, great games, hear great music, laugh at great comedians, get the latest news with pictures and more for no money.

Your time paid for it.

I'm on a Jet Blue flight as I write this. And the flight attendant just read off a 90-second spiel about the virtues of some cockamamie credit card they're offering that will give me 80,000 Blue Miles if I sign up now. Blue me.

That kind of thing pisses me off.

As does cable TV.

I watch two-and-a-half hours of TV a week, and because I don't want the hassle of dealing with Xfinity, I don't cut the cord, even though I pay $209/month for nothing. 

I pay $209/month and I get about 20-minutes of commercials to every 40-minutes of programming.

To my eyes, I'm being charged twice.

You're charging me monopolistic rates (no wonder, you're a monopoly) and you're taking my time.

In brief, I think advertising as we know it has become so sullied by greed that it's become hated. Practitioners of advertising can countermand some of that hate via good work. But the basic "value exchange," time for programming has been violated.

It would be like going to a restaurant and ordering a meal. In a few moments, the server puts your steak directly on the tablecloth. He doesn't give you utensils so you can eat. Or even a chair to sit on.

Those are all available, of course, but at an extra charge.

That's what's happened to us.

And guess what? 

It doesn't matter how good that steak is, you hate it. 

That's how advertising strikes a lot of people, I think. We've become unentertaining, uninformative, uninteresting, unempathetic.

And a rip-off.