Friday, December 1, 2023

In the Dark.

It was unusual for the Seraperos de Saltillo to have a practice at Estadio de Beisbol de Francisco I. Maduro during my one long season playing under the all-seeing and all-punishing Mexican sun in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. But our losing ways had been losinger than usual and our manager, Hector Quetzacoatl Padilla, aka, Hector Quesadilla, thought it wise to try to correct some bad habits before they came worse habits.

Like me, el estadio was born old.

What's more, running a ball team, or dealing with a bunch of kids, or any group of people in an office, or a family vacation, is sometimes more about showing who's boss than having any real reason for doing something. You have to, at times, lay down the law if for no other reason that to slow humankind's inevitable and inexorable slide into entropy.

I can see my house from here.

In other words, Hector called practice this evening because too many of the Seraperos were doing things their way and not his way. Playing with their shirts untucked, with their sanitary hose down about their ankles, showing up late to the ballpark, or the worst sins of all in the deep eyes and unforgiving strictures of Hector, missing the cutoff man on a peg from the outfield, missing a sign, or bunting one into the air for an easy hip-pocket catch by the opposition's backstop.

We played continuously that summer. Often we averaged more than a game a day for a stretch of two weeks or three. "You don't make money if you don't fill the ballpark," I heard one official from the team mutter once, as we set off on our rickety team bus to play nine games in seven nights. And so, we played until we dropped and the we picked ourselves up and played some more.

As a consequence the chances we had to practice were limited usually to loose pepper before the game, some desultory batting practice, arm-strengthening long throwing, and routine shit, like shifting when a lefthander came up, or learning little niblicks of tricks like as you were running the bases, drawing a throw from the outfield so the lead runner could advance.

But this was a full-fledged practice after a twilight loss to the Olmecs or the Stevedores or the Pelicanos. This was a wind-sprint, puke on the warning-track kind of practice. Because Hector was mad.

He was mad at the nothingness of the team. The lack of bite and the lack of fight. He was mad that too many of the boys were just getting through the season, not fighting through the season. 

Hector, when he was a player, slid spikes out into second even if his team was down 13-2. There was no phoning it in in Hector's world. Baseball was a way away from the crushing horror of his childhood and giving up on baseball, even during a single, fleeting moment of lassitude, signaled a return to the pain of a father who hit you--and not with an open hand--and sleeping five to a mattress in a two-room wooden shack full of 
brothers and empty stomachs. 

A life without heart or health or hope. A life of hell and helplessness. Baseball was the out from that, and Hector played every game like he was playing death in a Bergman movie and he was always one move behind.

We clambered into groups according to our positions. I was in with the "bend-over" infielders, the guys who had to crouch at the knees and bend at the waist to do their defensive job. The first basemen were off on their own, working with Gulliermo Sisto on their footwork and their scooping bad throws out of the dirt. Gordo Batista worked with our two catchers--getting them to stick their fat Indio asses almost onto the dust to block against passed balls, and then pop up like a child's toy to make the wicked peg to second.

The outfielders, five of them, practiced dumb stuff, like staying in the game not looking for pretty girls in the stands and hitting the cut off and backing up the one-over outfielder lest one bound past him. 

Hector was with us bend-overs, hitting us sharp grounders to our left or to our right, trying to get us to leap like Brooks Robinson to stab the ball before it could escape our clutches for extra bases. 

Hector was particularly angry at me that night. Earlier that day, a rocket shot by me and I reacted too slowly and tried to compensate by grabbing at it barehanded with my right hand because I was too molasses to dive and get it. From where the liner hit my hand, my hand was swollen like an overstuffed Cuban sandwich and it pulsated like a ringing telephone.

Then, at once, the lights in the decaying stadium went off. The stadium was supposed to be a showcase--a modern wonder of the baseballers' art. But by the time bribes and graft got done with it, half the wooden seats had no backs, half the stairways had no railings and the infield was covered in rocky littoral, not major league loam.

The lights went out because it was nine-o'clock and the grounds' crew turned the lights out and disappeared for the night. We breathed a breath of thank god and began to leave. But Hector stopped us.

The moon was bright and Hector gathered us in. "We will practice with our ears and not our eyes," he said. "We will hear what the wood says when it hits a ball. We will listen where the wind blows a fly ball and will sense the ca-bump of the enemy's spikes and calculate when we can throw him out or not. We will listen to the sound of the game."

Hector fungoed grounders to the infielders--hard, short, fast-bouncing hits to our right or to our left. He wanted us to learn, to be like Willie Mays and anticipate with 99.999% accuracy the vector of the ball before the ball itself even knew. The great ones, Hector said, could do so. Clemente, the Pirate of Pittsburgh. Mays, the Giant of San Francisco. Brooks, the
be-wingéd Oriole from Baltimore.

Like my own be-spikéd feet, the Serapero infielders had ears of clay. Once, only once, I dove to my left and heard a low grounder into my Rawlings 'Finest in the Field' glove. But that leather embossed slogan, like such much else that emanated from el Norte was a lie and an over-promise. I was not, and never would be the finest in the field, more apt, I was the fuck-up in the field.

I said to Hector across the infield in my bad high school Spanish, words I knew he might understand. "I am no Vayu," I barked as if talking to a bad dog, "I am no Vayu, the ancient god worshiped by the even more ancient Persians." 

"No se," Hector growled back.

"I am no Vayu," I said, echoing myself. "The vital breath of the world, is not the same as the vital breath in my human body. I am disconnect. Incongruity. Think left, go right."

Hector laughed at that. To me, Hector was an easy-laugh. Our senses were connected that way which is why he quickly became my first father and I his only son. Even when he was mad at me which was unusual, he loved me like my own father never did.

Orestes was born not with feet but with rockets.

"Cosmos and person are one in one person in ten million crowds of people. Perhaps Francisco I. Maduro himself had that vital breath, or Minoso of the Chicago pale hose who was never thrown out no matter how like a wild javelino he ran. But Porfirio Diaz gunned down the breath of the people and kept his kingdom of Mexico, as unvital as he was to anything but his own greed. And Minoso, black, was kept out too long because of white."

He shot another grounder my way and I fielded it in the dark cleanly across my body. I took two half Nijinski hops and zinged the ball across the infield to where the first basemen were but they did not see, hear or anticipate the sphere's arrival. It flew to Sisto's face through the dark and missed his prodigious beak only at the last minute, interrupted by the instincts of his hummingbird reflexes.

"Es totalmente," Hector shouted and we left the dark of the field for the gloom of the dripping locker-room. I stayed for a moment on the field and then lay on the dessicated grass between home and third. Hector lay down next to me and up at the lonely stars we stared.

"We are two people," the old man said in his mountain Spanish. "We are two people in one cosmos on one planet in one city in one stadium on one team. We are two people in one cosmos. We are not the vital breath of anything."

"Maybe because most nights we are too tired to even breathe" I answered.

We blinked against the blinking of the stars--more stars than the number of people at the most crowded of celestial ballparks. 

"We are not the vital breath of anything," Hector repeated and his growl of a voice reverberated from Alpha-Centauri back to me.

"Except each one of us is the vital breath to the other. Your breath is vital to my breath is vital to your breath" Hector ended.

"Each one of us vital to the other," the stars and I repeated.

We breathed and talked to the blinking stars without blinking. 

The stars were bright. The lights in el estadio stayed dark.  There was no sight to be seen and no seens to be sighted. Yet, ever-groping at the molecular darkness, we somehow found our way. We found a beacon, unblinking, in the dark.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Miles to Go.

Frost could have just said, "But I had shit to do."

There's so much bad copywriting in the world today.

Someone chose a certain set of words that are meaningless. 

Or uninteresting.

Or like something I saw online recently from Volvo, dumb. I think their headline positioned one of their cars as being, "For all your yous."

In New York, a group of people is a yous, as in "hey, whadda yous guys wanna do?" Or, "Hey yous, go fuck y'self and duh rats yous rode in on."

But that's not the reason for my disdain.

For all your yous is just a convoluted notion. I don't think anyone ever in the roughly 200,000-year history of homo sapiens ever said, 'I need a car for all my mes.'

Every day, yes, every day, someone--usually a client--asks me about copy. How can they get better at writing.

While it's not hard to explain how to get better. It's hard to actually get better.

Orwell, in 'Politics and the English Language' wrote,

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

What am I trying to say?

What words will express it?

What image or idiom will make it clearer?

Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

Could I put it more shortly?

Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in.

That last sentence, the one I underlined is what most people do. They forget that they have an obligation to their readers to make things interesting. Fresh. Original. Brief. God forbid, funny. 

An obligation. 

The same obligation a doctor has to wash her hands.
A cook has to use the right ingredients.
A parent has to be patient and loving.

An obligation.

All that is work.

And not doing work is easier than doing work.

And the corollary, not caring is easier than caring.

Back when writers used to report to me, I'd get pissed if they brought me copy that had a lot of typos. One typo, I understand. I make my share of typos in this space. I'm human. 

I'm talking a lot of typos. Their typos showed me that they found not caring easier than caring.

That's a sin in my book.

48-hours ago, I stumbled upon a really good piece of writing. I liked it so much, I wrote it down, to help me remember it. It's good to do that. With writing. Songs. Snippets of conversation. Art work. Movies. Bits of architecture.

The sentences I read were from a 1975 movie starring Gene Hackman, called'Night Moves.' He plays a private eye who's trying to "figure out the whodunit of his own crumbling marriage."

In the scene, Hackman is watching a football game on television. His wife asks him who's winning.

"Nobody," Hackman answers.

"One side's just losing more slowly than the other."

The writer could have just said they were bored with each other.
But that wouldn't have captured it. Or he could have written paragraphs about distance and a bleak view of the world. But somehow he captured a really fraught moment indelibly in ten words.

There was one of those moments in another movie, 'Stand By Me,' directed by Rob Reiner, based on a story by Steven King.
My best friend, Fred, who died tragically just last year brought it to my attention. He noticed things like this. One of the reasons I loved him.

  • The voiceover said this: "It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of your life, like busboys in a restaurant."

There are so many ways transience can be expressed. So many crappy clichés. But someone cared.

Just as someone cared when they wrote, "Nobody, one side's just losing more slowly than the other."

Whether you're writing an email, a banner ad, a resignation letter or a super bowl spot, communicating simply and memorably is not easy.

That's why we work so hard at it.

Or why we should.

If you're human, you have an obligation.

scrupulous writer
, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus4/21/2021

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About A.I., Advertising and Killing Our Planet.

There was an article in the Thanksgiving edition of "The New York Times" by Yvon Chouinard, the founder and former owner of the clothing retailer, Patagonia. The article was titled, "The High Stakes of Low Quality," and you can read it here. 

Before I begin, let me betray a bias.

I don't believe anything made by machine or algorithm is as good as anything made by humans. Since the beginning of humankind, the most fruitful and important work as come from an alignment of heart-->hand-->head. Any upset of that symmetry is necessarily in-human and inferior. 

There are all kinds of things machines can do better than humans. But machines need human intelligence and guidance and oversight to really be useful. A machine can sew a straight, even stitch but can't design a dress, create a pattern or add some flair. Left to consensus or algorithm, we'll soon be living in a Komar and Melamid world, ugly, bland and without truth or soul. 

Just watch TV one night. The shows, the ads or the interstitials. You'll see what happens when only artificial ingredients are used in creation. That ain't good for food, furniture, park benches, art or culture.

Here's how Chouinard begins his op-ed piece:

Over 50 years ago, my wife, Malinda, and I bought a chef’s knife of carbon steel that we still use. It could be passed down to several generations. Compare that to the junk stainless steel ones that might not rust but that won’t hold an edge to cut a tomato.

Cheap products, made poorly and thrown away quickly, are killing people and the planet.

I fear--because I've seen it happening--that junkification is happening even more-so in our industry. We are specializing in (as above) cheap products, made poorly and thrown away quickly.

Truth is truth whether it's a knife, an advertising platform or a television commercial. If it's made badly, it costs too much, no matter how much or how little you pay. And to the MBAs of the world, how cost-efficient it purports to be.

In his essay, Chouinard cites the novelist Terry Pratchett. Pratchett's devised something he calls the "boots theory of socioeconomics." Maybe GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company will co-opt it. You earn that privilege is you work reading smart people into how you make a living. 

Pratchett says,
 some time ago, "A man who could afford $50 had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in 10 years’ time.  While a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent $100 on boots in the same time--[he'd probably have spent $20/pr. five times on five different pairs] and would still have wet feet.”

I think so many agencies are selling and so many clients are buying (and asking for) the advertising equivalent of cheap boots. They don't want to pay for a sound strategy. They don't want to pay for original thoughts. They don't want to intelligence, craft, taste, wit, or endurability.

As a consequence, they pay over and over again, for knives "won’t hold an edge to cut a tomato." Or, excuse me, ads that don't cut through. Or if they do cut through, they say nothing.

I am from a different era, so maybe this is due to some heuristic myopia--whatever that means. But all the taglines I can remember are close to 40 or 30 or 50 or even 100 years old. The enduring lines that defined companies in the minds and hearts of millions are seldom being created or used anymore.

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight was FedEx in the early 80s.

We run the tightest ship in the shipping business was UPS in the 90s. 

Have it your way was by Burger King, created during the Nixon administration.

Apple's Think Different is more than a quarter-of-a-century old.

BMW's The Ultimate Driving Machine is more than half-a-century old.

Even Skittles' Taste the Rainbow is turning 30 this year.

Thinking like this is rare. As rare as the carbon-steel knife Chouinard describes above. But like that knife, it can last generations and like that knife still cut through--tomatoes or indifference.

Chouinard ends his piece this way. "Quality is smart business. Even during economic downturns, people don’t stop spending. In our experience, instead of wanting more, they value better. Consumers should demand — and companies should deliver — products that are more durable, multifunctional and, crucially, socially and environmentally responsible."

Advertising practitioners should likewise create ideas that are more "durable, multifunctional and, crucially, socially and environmentally responsible."

Quality is smart business.

Or could be.


Tuesday, November 28, 2023

With All Thy Getting, Get Understanding.

Herman Melville, one of my 3,459,034,987 writing heroes once said, "a whale ship was my Harvard and my Yale College." Meaning he got his educmacation not from the formal education dispensed by other people but from living life.

I love education. I'm what's known to the educated as an autodidact. Meaning that though I had a pretty rigorous formal education, the bulk of my non-hic haec hoc learning came not to the tune of a hickory stick, but from living and reading and watching and, in the words of another of my favorite writers, Robert Caro, my willingness to "turn every page." That is to start learning, to find something of interest, and not stop learning more until the great scorekeeper comes to pen my name. 

Advertising--my profession for 62 of my 66 years--used to be a business filled with the curious and the self-educated. People with an eye and or an ear for life and wants and needs and desires and dreams and failures. Mostly people filled with the power of observation and the deep generosity of caring for our fellow humans.

Today, the industry is almost wholly professionalized. People go to school and learn techniques and cases and hows and theories on how to win awards and get into annuals and parlay, via plasticene trophies, your way to a decent living. 

I liken advertising today to learning to hit a ball through reading a book or learning to ride your first bike by watching YouTube videos then suing because you've scraped your knee.

The scraped knee part is as good a metaphor as you're likely to get. Because like Melville's whale ship, or my long days and longer nights in the Mexican Baseball League, being a human doesn't happen if you've spent your formative years having had your immune system protected by helicoptering parents and analgesic sprays that will somehow shield you once and forever from both harm and living.


Life is pain and hurt and injustice and crying foul with no one listening and that's the way you learn to be a human and, yes, how to reach people.

Today, well, today...

The more I look at the business the more "gameified" it seems to have become. Ads, or whatever they are seem to be targeted at 12 people on Twitter or Agency Spy. But they seemed designed to have such little, non-solipsistic impact that I assume they're a vanity project and not real.

Not too long ago, a client of mine was having a hard time getting his salesforce to actually sell. To get through to their customers with an impactful, sensitive and motivating story.

"Have you seen McGraw Hill's 65-year-old 'Man in Chair' ad," I asked.

"Whose what?" He blitherered.

"McGraw Hill's 'Man in Chair' ad."


I sent him it.

I don't care that certain clients or certain industry experts might consider me "dated."

I don't care if I don't get business because I reference old ads.

I don't care if Mark Read fired me with the vicious accusation that a) I harken back to the 80s and b) there's something wrong with harkening back to the 80s.

Disagree all you want.

There's not an agency or a company or a brand today that wouldn't gain from looking at the ad above and asking themselves, "do my potential customers, customers or employees know who I am?"

I don't know what anyone does anymore, why it's different or why I should care. 

Because as an industry, we're too busy standing on chairs and waving our arms trying to get people to notice us. Rather than imagining ourselves in the chair of an outsider and saying, "who wants me to do what for them and for what reason?"

Go on.

Ask the questions of the telco you buy.
The gum you chew.
The agency you work for.
The candidates you vote for.
Even the country you live in.

They're just logos designed by machines with no soul, essence, meaning or guts,

We're more educated than ever.
Yet we don't know what we do for a living.

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Third Way.

You can't spit today--or yesterday, or the day before yesterday, or tomorrow--without hearing somebody, somewhere--probably a futurist, whatever that is--pomposticating about the glorious era of AI humanity is on the cusp of entering. 

Human potential will be unleashed.

Diseases will be cured.

Air will be cleared, poems will be written, operas will be sung.

An Age of Peace, Prosperity and Harmony with settle upon our not-so-green-earth and the sins of the fathers will be ameliorated by a generation that will make things right and will, in so doing, create the best of all possible worlds.

I'll say it right here.

I don't much cotton to futurists who have no vision of the past. Most everything that's happening today with AI, or Quantum, or cold-fusion, or driverless-Cuisinarts, or the internet of schwings, has happened before in similar ways with similarly (for the time-frame) advanced technologies.

Technology--I'll make this really simple--regardless of its micro job description, say, attaching a bumper onto a car frame, or ploughing 50 acres-a-day where a human with a yoke of oxen could plough one, is 99.99999-per cent of the time a tool to drive cost out of the system.

What's more, since technology costs money, it's usually concentrations of capital that benefit first from technology. They own the machines, they get rid of the people who used to do the work. They get more money.

That's how the rich get richer and the poor die younger. 

That's how it's always been and always will be.

Now, there's another virtually indisputable facet of technology and industrialization. 

Quality almost immediately decays.

Early printed books were not as artful as those made by scribes on vellum. Early machine-made furniture was not as beautiful and finely-made as hand-made furniture. 

Around 1800, when England switch from its primary cottage industry, weaving and clothing-making to loom-made and factory-made textiles, the quality was decried. Machines couldn't do what human hands could.

See if you can find one not un-true statement in this one minute time-suck. Or one statement that's now, not 'what will happen.'

Just yesterday, I saw an ad for AI-derived customer-service technology made by an ex-client of mine. The bullshit about the splendors of this technology improving "the customer experience" and service etc. etc. was as soul crushing as a speech by donald trump or joseph goebbels. Every word was so absolutely divergent from lived reality as to be more-than-comical.

Yet today, I read of a efflorescence, a renaissance of sorts to be propagated by AI.

The way tech works is always the same.

We're told there will be a "mother and child reunion." A mating, for the benefit of all of humans and machines. Coal-mining will be safer. Cars will be affordable. The $5 wage will raise all ships. John Henry can knock off early and eat boneless buffalo- style wings while a steam shovel does his work while he benefits.

Yet, there's hardly ever an enhancement of product quality of the life of the masses due to machinery and technology. The rapid adoption of machinery has almost always caused massive disruption and misery. Adoption must happen fast--because if you own a company and your competitors do and you don't, you're out of business.

Almost 40 years ago, New York Times op-ed writer Flora Lewis wrote a column called "The Third Way." An hour ago, I tried to post a link to it here, but in our hyper-modern world, a storm--made more severe by the effects of our hyper-modern world--has knocked out the power. Our $32,000 generator isn't working. Ostensibly because the bot that supposed to tell the technician to service the $32,000 generator is vacationing in Aruba or is gambling at Foxwoods.

Surely, however, in lieu of the service I pay for, I'll get sixteen texts asking me how to fill out a survey to tell a bot how my customer experience was.

That's merely an emblem of what happens when technology drives costs out of a system. It drives people and humanity out of the system as well. 

Agencies today are big box retailers. Ask a client--any client--if they're happy with the undifferentiated product, the constantly changing staffing of their account, the lack of accountability--I'd imagine agency invoices are nearly as convoluted as your cable bill, and more. 

But it's all ok.

Cost has been driven out of the system. And twelve white males at the top of the holding company are aok. 

Here's the bit, at long last, from Flora Lewis that set this off. Lewis' third way thesis requires thinking, planning, kindness and accepting 188-percent margins rather than 189-percent margins. So, it will never happen.

Any futurist reading this--anytime, anywhere, any who, let's debate this.

Mano a mano.

Or mano a machino.

"Real quality requires craftsmanship, hand-finishing. Historically, it was reserved for the rich. The second industrial revolution can be used to provide it for everybody, just as the first made possible mass production and distribution. That was achieved by an economic model based on great quantities of cheap goods. Henry Ford's assembly line made the automobile everyman's transport. The robot can now replace low-skilled workers. The next step is the equivalent of a Rolls-Royce for everyman..."

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Quid Without Quo Pro.

I think it was Comrade Stalin who famously said, "It's not who votes, it's who counts." 

If you read a lot of history, you'll quickly realize something of a parallel construction exists in most social and political organizations. In most agencies, for instance, and in fact, in America, "it's not the laws, or regulations, or standards that matter, it's which ones those in power decide to enforce."

For instance, in days of yore, in England, it was against the law for workers to unionize. It was also against the law for businesses to fix prices and wages. The laws against unionization were enforced. The laws against price and wage collusion were not. So rank-and-file workers got poorer and owners got richer.

Today, in the ad industry, four Holding Companies that control about 80-percent of all advertising jobs. It's clear to anyone who works in the industry that price collusion is in effect. If you freelance for a living, as so many of my friends do, you're quickly told "this is the max we'll pay." It doesn't matter which of the four holding companies you work for, the wages are virtually the same no matter what.

Price fixing is illegal. Whether it's perpetrated by the three or four petroleum and chemical companies that control 80-percent of the fuel sold in amerika, or by the two or three telcos and ISPs, that control 80-percent of amerikan bandwidth, or the three or four airlines that control 80-percent of amerika's travel, or the four holding companies that rule our industry.


Of course, the law, as it's written, has an out. We can abide by the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law, and I suppose, most people can sleep at night with that sort of malfeasance. The 'out' in this instance, is the word "unreasonable." Since little people, people like you and me, no longer have any government representation, there's no one who will fight to treat people well
--there's no one willing to enforce the laws that are already on the books.

As we enter yet another election cycle, we're sure to hear all kinds of reactionary blather about how the rich shouldn't have to pay taxes because they are "job creators." trump paid $750 in taxes over the four years he was president. He will probably be reelected. 

We'll also hear a lot about how workers are greedy and ungrateful and lazy. When workers quit, the reactionaries call them lazy. When workers strike, or sick out, or as the New York Police Department did one year, 'blue flu,' they're called by the radical right 'bloated and entitled.' The illegal monopolistic practices of corporations are deemed ok. 

It's no wonder people hate their jobs. And so much of the work that we produce sucks.

Why should anyone care.

No one cares about us.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Of Frogs and Humans.

When I came back to Ogilvy for my second tour of duty about a full-decade after I left, having maxed out the first time, the leadership team on IBM--the account I was honored to work on--had a mandatory Monday morning meeting. It started at 9AM. That kept the attendance down.

Usually, I was the first one in the fluorescent room. I chose a seat near the head of the table but not at the head--it was a careful calculation I guess I had gleaned from watching old movies about gangland crime syndicates.

I chose the seat where I was least-likely to be hit by a fusillade of bullets.

The power to kill someone came from the head of the table, but the power to influence the table came from where I chose to sit.  You can learn a lot watching old Jimmy Cagney movies or "Untouchables" reruns when you're battling insomnia. 

After I was in my seat, the next people to show up were usually the people in charge of media. They invariably had a hard-stop and were gleaming with perks and impatient. They clearly didn't want to be there.

Then my boss, the chief creative officer would arrive. Then the head of the account, the agency CEO. Then others would stagger in, late, guilty and usually with 32-ounces of too-sweet coffee.

In those early minutes before others arrived, I would talk to the media people. And no, I wasn't just trying to cadge tickets. I was way too unimportant to be nice to.

IBM was an account where a few customers spent millions of dollars on just a couple of products or services. In the decade between the time I left Ogilvy and came back to Ogilvy two major things had changed.

One: IBM was no longer a big fish in a big technology pond. Their status had been usurped by Amazon, Microsoft, Google and a few others. Two: Print advertising had all-but vanished. 

However, what hadn't changed, at least for me was my almost stoic-belief in David Ogilvy's dictum that "the consumer isn't a moron." In other words, I believed--especially when you're spending millions of dollars on something--that you don't buy it because it's cool or people in a commercial start dancing because of it. We don't buy non-impulse things for impulse reasons. That would be moronic. And see above.

I still believe that from automobiles to expensive steaks to giant technology infrastructure, people want a reason why beyond, in the words of Arthur Miller's Willy Loman, "a smile and a Shoeshine." (Miller capitalized Shoeshine. I don't know why.)

Consequently, in this early morning meetings I would barrage the media people with a simple edict. "You have to find a way so we can have the impact of a 'double-truck with gutter ad online.' Impact beyond creative impact and craft. Impact from sheer presence. From size and placement and front-and-centerness.

A double-truck with gutter is a holdover from my Bloomingdale's newspaper advertising days. It's the center-spread in a paper, including the space where the pages meet--the gutter. It's important. And it's built for impact.

The media people ignored me, as they do. And, frankly, the agency and the client ignored me too. They filed me away as 'not digital first.'

Like Aristophanes' chorus of Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax-ing Frogs, the chorus in this conference room, morning after morning, week after week was always the same.

Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax became Why 'break not your ass, no read, no read.'

Today, I see ads that say nothing but with style. A well-crafted circle with a gradient of colors. Some nice motion. And an inscrutable line, about ten rungs down from fortune-cookie wisdom. And such stuff is meant to sell a complex offering (one that no one really understands) from a not-hot company (one that no one really likes) in a competitive market (one where you're being outspent.)

But you see, we have a sentence for that.

Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

We have wisdom for that: no one cares. It's not a rational decision. No one has time. No one reads. Digital first.

Civilization has been lamenting how busy everyone is, how no one has any time since we came down from trees, certainly since the "sapiens" bested the Denisovians and the Neanderthals. 

It's like saying teenagers don't listen, my wife doesn't understand me, and if I miss the 6:17, I'm fucked.

I'm not going to bother citing the famous Howard Luck Gossage quotation here. If you don't know it, you should. And if you do know it, you should know what I'm talking about. And if you don't care, then you wouldn't have read this far.

This dopey blog, written by one person, every day, reaches 80,000 or more readers a week. It's just copy, girls and boys. There's no twenty-percent off coupon at the end, and you don't get an "A" on your spiritual report card for reading. 

As far as I know, in all 7,000 posts, this blog hasn't inspired anyone to dance.

Without being more arrogant than is my norm, people read the tips of my fingers because they say something unusual and interesting. Even if my references, in the case of Aristophanes, are 2800 years old, and in the case of Arthur Miller, 80 years old.

People read because they get something of value.

When you give people something of value, they generally like you.

When they like you, it's generally good for you. They might even buy from you.

That's how it works.

Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Fault. Lies.

I probably shouldn't write this today. Ad Aged is a family blog and what follows is heavy. What's more, it's Monday, Monday of a mattress-sale-week in what used to be the last best hope for humankind, and maybe I should just give it a rest and cease flapping my lips and swiftly become a Swifty. But, I can't help myself. 

As Con Edison used to say at every road excavation site when I was growing up and being kept down during my prison of a childhood, "Dig, We Must." So I dig. I must. (BTW, I wrote a tagline for an earth-despoiling petroleum company once that said, "Dig Deep." Any hardships that accrue to me, I warrant.)

I am reading Adam Nicolson's latest must-read book, "How To Be: Life Lessons from the Early Greeks." There are a lot of ways to live your life, but living your life thinking about your life might be the best way. 

As Socrates said 2500 years ago, "An unexamined life is not worth living." But that's the deal with most people who seem to lurch from one crisis to one trend and onto the next mishap like "oy, we're out of sour cream."

This is heavy, I know, for a blog on advertising but fear not, it will only get worse. As all things do in our entropic universe. I promise, there's a point to all this, and an advertising point to boot. Like most points, however, they take me a few moments to arrive to. That's how it goes.

At the start of Western thought, say 3000 years ago, there was a huge transition point. You can discover this transition--and it's a big one--bigger than switching from OTT viewing to Netflix--just by taking fifteen hours of your leisure time, turning off whatever screen you spend your days anesthetizing yourself with and reading in close succession, two epics. Real epics. Not an epic catch in a CTE-resulting football game between one team that's 2-9 and another that's 3-8, that you simply must see because it beats thinking and living and being in the moment.

The epics are "The Iliad," written around 800 BC and "The Odyssey," written around 650 BC. The transition that happens in those 150 or so years is huge and the topic today, and still going on in ways that affect our lives, our politics and the advertising industry.

Nicolson writes in "How to Be," "Pondering scenes in the Iliad are resolved by divine intervention in over 70 per cent of cases; in the Odyssey, the people themselves decide quite unaided in over 90 per cent of cases."

Holy shit. There it is.

In the pre-modern world, gods guide us. 
In what became the modern world, we guide us.

Shakespeare's Cassius in "Julius Caesar" was still reckoning with this almost 2,500 years after the Iliad and Odyssey. Cassius says,

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, 

When I look at the advertising industry today, and the world today, I see entities that have regressed. We've gone backward from the Odyssey to the Iliad. We blame for the woes of our worlds, woes large and small, giant, external, inscrutable cosmic forces rather than ourselves.

On Thursday, I posted the above on LinkedIn. By this morning, it had gotten 32,000 views and a fair number of comments. Many of those comments blamed the collapse of our industry on external forces. AI. Digital. Holding Company greed. No comments say 'we took our eye off the ball.'

Similarly in amerika, we blame globalization for disruption, or climate change, or darker people in some shape and form. We never go back to Economics 101 and recall those rudimentary lectures we might have slept through on guns and butter. Since the end of WWII, a mere scintilla of time in a cosmic scheme, we've probably spent $500 Trillion (my estimate) on military materiel and weaponry. 

All the problems of our modern world, poverty, disease, lack of education, climate change, crappy roads, even the Knicks not having a great three-point shooter, could have been solved with that $500 trillion. The fault is in ourselves. But no.

In advertising, we've forgotten--almost all of us--what it is that we are supposed to do and for whom we're supposed to do it. So while we're blaming our demise on the four horsemen of the advertising apocalypse, we haven't looked, really, at how to provide clients real thinking and real value. 

I've yet to hear anyone in the industry look at the simple geography of the industry and think. And draw an internal lesson from an external happening.

In 40 years, from the 1980s to today, agencies went from being located on Madison, Park, Lexington and Third, to the east Podunk areas of Manhattan. We're on the fringes because we are of fringe importance. 

We did that.

We are not the first ones CEOs call. And WE did that. We forgot how to be vital and important to CEOs--and to customers. 

We forgot to define. 
We forgot to differentiate.
We forgot how to demonstrate.
We forgot to learn.
We forgot to simplify. 
We forgot kindness.
We forgot the verities of communication established since humans decided to go bipedal. 
We forgot accountability.
We forgot that it costs money to make money.
We forgot honesty.

I could easily give away my secrets here. It would only take a few more sentences. But, no.

Suffice to say, I don't have a meeting or even a phone call with anyone less than a CMO. And usually I have a CEO on the call. I have clients from pre-revenue start-ups to the Fortune 50, who call me before they sneeze because they need what I do and they pay me for it.

I've boiled this down to an acronym or two and that's basically what I sell. At "full-freight."

It ain't external forces that have fucked up the world and our world.

As Cassius said to Antony, as Terry said to Charlie, as I say to you...