Friday, March 31, 2023

Myth Lonelyhearts.

Some of the oldest stories in the world have been newly translated, newly-massaged and just a month or so ago, newly published. 

If you want to read tales even more ancient than the leftovers in my deceased mother's deceased Frigidaire icebox, you'd do well to pick up and read Sarah Iles Johnstone's  "Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers." You can buy it here.

We live today, in many ways, in a horrible and disgusting time on our dying planet. 

Perhaps among the most horrible and most disgusting times among the five-billion years of earth. All horrible and disgusting times--from the tyranny of the crusading conquering church, to Stalin's Russia, to Hitler's Germany, to Mao's China, to Trumpian America have something in common. They are times of moral absolutism. 

They are times when there is absolute right and wrong. Absolute good and evil. Absolute allowed to live and destined to be punished. 

Horrible and disgusting times are virtually always marked by a moral "My way or the highway-ist" thinking and today's world--where guns kill nine-year-olds and nine-year-olds are forced to carry their rapist's spawn represents the nadir of small L liberalism and acceptance.

Back about 1900 years ago, the Roman empire lived through a couple hundred years where moral absolutism held sway. (BTW, 300 years of history out of the 200,000 years of humans on earth is equivalent to 54-seconds in an hour-long meeting.) 

Back about 100 CE, the Roman empire lurched between an embrace of the old gods, Jupiter and Company, and the thrall of the new gods, Jesus and Company. If emperor A backed Jupiter and bad shit went down, emperor B would assume power and lurch to Jesus. The Roman empire and its institutions would careen back and forth between morality systems like an old game of Atari Pong but with deadlier consequences.

The foundation stories of the Greeks had no such moral austerity. They were accepting of ambiguity and crepuscular light in ways we aren't today.

That is why they are so timelessly valuable.

People (and gods) are not heroes. They are not perfect. They are wrong as often as they are right. They are good as often as they are bad. They make mistakes, they are punished--sometimes. And the sins (and in the case of Poseidon, the fins) are the fathers and mothers are visited upon the children for time immemorial.

Even Heracles, who in the Disney movie called Hercules went from "zero to hero," was <er> somewhat flawed. I mean, what kind of man impregnates fifty daughters of a king and then kills their fifty sons?

A long time ago I arrived at something I inelegantly call the 60:40 rule. (I have a rule for just about every number from one to one-thousand. Someday, maybe, I'll publish them.) 

I had just finished yet another 900-page book on Winston Churchill. I quickly realized that the courageous man who you can argue save Western civilization and world Jewry was a fuck-face about 40-percent of the time. He had troops fire on striking Irish workers and kept hundreds of millions of Indians under England's sweaty colonial thumb.

I think 60:40 is right for just about every appraisal. 

From corporate leaders to new CCOs to politicians. Good ones are decent about 60-percent of the time and screw up about 40-percent of the time. Bad ones are reciprocal.

Of course, there are always trumpian outliers and out-liars. But most people fall into the realm of 60:40.

Our problem as a civilization comes when we deify or make heroic humans and their errors. When we believe we can be absolutely right. That best practices make things better. And that we can materially improve our odds of success.

"Gods and Mortals," the book is about 540-pages long and is divided into 140 different stories. That means each story is about three-and-a-half pages long--about the length of a Bazooka Joe comic strip. 

If you get on the train at 14th Street you can read about Oedipus gouging out his eyes by 23rd Street. And you'll be a better person for it.

You don't have to read the book as I am from cover to cover. You can hit it like a Golden Corral buffet. If you want to start with a green salad, ok. But if you want to start at the fettuccini Alfredo, that's ok too. Like most seminal stories, they have no beginning, middle or end. They, like the world, keep spinning. Get on and off wherever you want.

The point here today--it's Friday, after all--is simple. The world is full of pain and strife and suffering. And also laughter and joy and love. They rocket back and forth, those extremes, like two Marvel heroes playing hyperactive ping-pong.

Just try to remember a natural law of the universe, physics, advertising and Isaac Newton.

For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. 

Keep trying to be a decent human being but keep your guard up. You never know when or where a roundhouse is coming from.


Thursday, March 30, 2023


On Friday, from the East River Ferry Pier at E. 35th Street, my wife and I took a three-hour waterfront tour of "New York's Sixth Borough," its sprawling and eclectic waterfront. Though the weather was cold, misty and windy, we bundled up and got ready to see a city that very few people get a chance to see.

We motored from 35th Street, past Roosevelt Island, through Hell's Gate, up to where the Bronx River meets the Harlem River meets the Long Island Sound meets the estuarine flow of the East River. 

Then we went around South Brother Island, the waste transfer stations of the South Bronx, the Queens side of Roosevelt Island, past the new, gleaming and vertical Long Island City, past new, gleaming and vertical Williamsburg, Brooklyn, past Sunset Park, Brooklyn, past Red Hook, Brooklyn, out to the Statue of Liberty, around asbestos-coated Governor's Island, back to the Ferry Landing at four--in time to walk to Sophie's for a good, hearty Cuban dinner.

Most of the 150 people on the boat were involved with one of the sponsor organizations. But there were three eighth-graders there with a dad. Their middle school was involved somehow and the bravest of the kids stuck a microphone in my face and asked if he could interview me for his school's radio station. The most absolutely charming and most absolutely New York thing about this was the kid's name: Achilles.

I'm not sure how many New Yorkers in 2023 are named Achilles and grow up keeping their eyes on their heels.

Achilles asked me what I thought about the whole shebang. My answer is the reason behind this post today. I said, "As a lifelong New Yorker, I grew up at a time when you could practically walk across the East River, it was so laden with sewage and carcasses. Today, the city has a vibrant ferry system and a string of parks along the waterfront (at least along the rich man's waterfront) and in the summer, we see people jet-skiing, kayaking and we see sea birds and fishers. There are beavers in the Bronx River, harbor seals on the West Side, and dolphins swimming past the UN. I'm here because I heard about the 'Billion Oyster Project' and I wanted to learn more."

A couple days after this, on Sunday morning, the sun rose bright and the temperature was inching into the 60s. My wife and I laced up our $200 synthetic sneakers and headed out to Central Park for our daily three-to-four-mile walk.

As the dogwoods, the forsythia and cherry blossoms showed in early pastel bloom, we circled the Great Lawn Oval, just west of the Met, just south of the reservoir and just north of Belvedere Castle. It's about 5/8ths of a mile around and the grass in the center of the oval is home to six baseball diamonds with overlapping venn-ed outfields.

The City had again devoted disproportionate resources to the playgrounds of the rich, and the well-drained fields were covered with genetically modified grass engineered to withstand life in the city. With the warmth of the sun shining on it, the dull brown of winter ground cover was turning a deep movie-star's-eyes green.

These were the fields where I plied my baseball career as a 14 to 17-year-old more than half-a-century ago. When I first played on these fields, the last Civil War veteran had died only 20 years earlier. And just five years earlier, large swaths of the population were segregated de jure from other large swaths.

As a tenth-grader, just 15 years old, I had moved up from baseball cleats to big-league Riddell baseball spikes. Riddell spikes, a Rawling's "finest in the field" glove and a Hillerich and Bradsby Louisville Slugger ash-wood bat were the pre-Nike tools of my trade.

Our team bus squealed to a stop alongside the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West and we boys grabbed a duffle of equipment and scampered across the street to our appointed field. The ancient cobbles of Central Park West showed through the lox-thin layer of asphalt, and I remember the abrade and sparks of my spikes on the sad stone.

This was the bottomed-out city. The heroin stupored, the switchblade sharp, the brink of a riot city that much of Amerika had hoped would drop dead and die. When Travis Bickel was in Times Square, not Elmo.

The fields themselves were a battleground. Tire-tracks sculpted in the mud lined the outfield so it looked like a junkie's forearms. Drug deals happened on the field during the game. "Hey, wouldja beat it? He's a pull-hitter" and there was way more dust and rat dander than greenery.

Today, this morning, the fields smiled. Though they were hurricane-fence closed for the season, even in early and still chilly spring, they were ready for the return of the summer game. Forget about sports and everything else today having been ruined because they've been sold to the highest bidder. Behind the chainlink, fenced off from rapacious capitalism, was hope and innocence.

Cities, ballfields, waterfronts, oceans, people, agencies, lives, hopes and dreams are not stolid like cinder blocks. As Edward Gibbon might have writ, they rise and fall, they live and breathe, they crash and burn, and they flutter and fly. 

As modern people in a fast-moving world, in many cases, we've stopped considering or forgotten how to consider, how long time is. 

A long time isn't a week or a month or a season or a year. It might be 50 years or a thousand.

The hurt heal. The bad reform. The dying spark. 

Things regenerate. 

Even smiles on the lips of gloomy old copywriters.

Especially gloomy old copywriters who keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Ad Guy and the Lawyer.

About three decades ago, maybe more, I had a brief conversation with one of the smartest people I know.  He happens to be my older brother. Who happens to be a successful lawyer in the City of Broad Shoulders and Narrow Arteries, Chicago.

Like many people, lawyers included, my brother was not enamored with the legal profession. Or, better, he was more excited by business than he was in some of the legalisms of working at a prestigious medium-sized firm.

During this particular conversation, Fred was unspooling one of his periodic schemes for acquiring private-jet-level money. During this unspooling, Fred taught me a lot about the modern, unregulated, oligopoly-controlled world of American business.

"George," Fred began, "remember those gum brands when we were little. Clove? Teaberry? Black Jack?"

I remembered them well. 

They were the gums of the cool kids. The chicle equivalent of smoking Gauloises cigarettes, when everyone else was stealing their parents' Chesterfields. They were the gums of the mastication cognoscenti.

"Yeah, so what?" I replied with my usual complete lack of perspicacity.

"The company that makes them is for sale. Some associates and I are trying to raise money to buy them. They have half-a-percent market-share now. If we can get them up to a point and a half, we'll all be rich."

The ad guy in me took over--the take-all-the-shrimp-from-the-buffet ad guy.

"Why one-and-a-half-percent? Why not three percent, five percent, ten percent."

Fred schooled me like Johnny Friendly and Charlie Malloy schooled the Waterfront commission and younger brother Terry in Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront."

"Can't grow to more than one-and-a-half-percent," Fred said. "If you do, Wrigley's would crush you."

Amid America's current miasma of unenforced deregulation, we, the people, are wholly at the mercy of giant concentrations of capital, market-share and market power.

Everything we eat comes from one of three or four companies. Everything we fly on, drive in, talk on, watch or type on, the same. Even our political parties, Democratic or not, are essentially anti-democratic. The little guy stands as much of a chance as an independent coffee joint in an airport. Snowball, meet hell.

The same is true, naturally, in the oligopoly-controlled ad industry. Five or six multi-national conglobberants control 80-percent of the billings and the jobs. They set prices and wages and decide who works, who's too old and more. 

In healthcare advertising, for instance, though there is a shortage of creative people (IPG Health's job site lists over 100 openings) despite the "invisible hand" of market-forces and demand outweighing supply, wages are, by many measures, lower today than they were a quarter of a century ago. 

That's what monopolies and oligopolies do. They combine their power to overwhelm market-forces. In the case above, they depress wages.

The same reality that chastened my brother's ambitions in the gum business, has driven many out of the economy in general. (I have no data for the ad business.)

As twice-disgraced Steven Rattner* wrote recently in an oped in the Times, continuing the long, ruling-class tradition of blaming the victims (we're not returning to work because we're "soft." Not because wages, conditions, distribution of money and treatment make it not worthwhile):

While I am as virulently anti-fascist trump as anyone, with the possible exception of his wives and rape-and-molestation victims, I do believe he is correct in calling the system rigged.

Capital, if unregulated, will always consolidate. It will always accumulate power to the point where it destroys competition and lowers wages, standards of living and, today, life expectancy.

Freelancing and running your own business are tough enough without exogenous forces making doing so even more difficult. The only thing to do is keep fighting. And have a stick of Beemans. 

If you can find a pack.

Rattner was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2009. He "admitted no wrongdoing" but settled for $6.2 million. In 2010, Rattner paid $10 million in restitution to the New York State Attorney General, but again "admitted no wrongdoing." 

Can you imagine being so virtuous, that you pay $16 million in fines for "no wrongdoing"?



Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Write it Down.

If you want to learn how your brain works, rests, sleeps, processes, you could do well by slogging through Eric R. Kandel's book, "The Age of Insight." (The paywalled Wall Street Journal review is here.)

The reason I like Kandel's book so much is simple. Kandel, a Nobel-Prize-winner, a doctor, Columbia University professor and a neuroscientist, gives you and your brain permission to goof off. 

So much of modern "hustle" bullshit culture and ad agency McKinsey'd time-sheet-shibboleth-mania is about optimizing, maximizing and efficiency. We're supposed to have no downtime, use every moment of every week to work. We're supposed to be multitasking while we're multitasking, billing two hours every thirty minutes and through a system of modern-day Corvee, not even get paid for the overtime we toil.

Kandel and "The Age of Insight" give you permission to rest, restore and regenerate your brain. But the great writer Delmore Schwartz wrote, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities." 

That being the case, I've created a corollary expression that like Castor and Pollux should be linked to Schwartz's. "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities to Have a Pad on Your Night-table to Write Things Down."

As someone who writes every day for a living, I am constantly on the hook. Every day, I have a job. I have to find an idea and write about it. (That's in addition to my paying job.)

Many of these ideas spin out from my brain while I am deep in REM-sleep after vanquishing my almost-nightly battle against insomnia. Many of the ads I write and the destinations I arrive at in my work for clients emerge from the swirl of connections that stew together when we sleep, shower, walk and wonder.

Accordingly, I have for about two-dozen years been as obsessive-compulsive as a keen athlete. The ideas I have I assiduously write down. I write them without editing. Almost always without turning on the lights, so I can hardly see when I write until I wake up in the morning.

We have to recognize the freedom of our brains; I mean our brain's need for freedom to play and think. If you're smart about it, for your brain play and think go together like holding company agencies and income-inequality.

Last night, in my sleep, I dreamt two blog posts.

They were good.

But I was spooning comfortably with Morpheus and fought successfully against removing myself from his grip. Though these posts sprung fully-formed from my head, I failed to write them down. 

Bad boy.

I had dreamed posts right down to their titles. (One of which was 'Crying in our Croissants.') But they each evaporated because I failed to write them down.

I trusted my subconscious memory and screwed my subconscious brain.

Bad boy.


Monday, March 27, 2023

Discrimination! Old! Unimproved! And Entirely Welcome!

Once again, WPP, the holding company that of late has won more awards than seemingly any other (while it's gone from 150,000 employees in 2017 to about 115,000 today--about a 25% decrease) had published its glitzy annual report.

On the cover, they herald themselves as "The Creative Transformation Company." And throughout they trumpet their leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion. You'll find sprinkled everywhere, chest-beating platitudes about the progressiveness of the Holding Company. Things like this:

Wow, you might say to yourself (especially if you've never read Orwell or Viktor Klemperer's "Lingua Tertii Imperii") what a great, human company. What liberal values are they actively pursuing.

Then, you arrive at page 71. If you read this blog with some regularity, you might recognize the ring chart on that page. It's virtually the same as the ring chart on at least the last seven annual reports.

So, while the 60+ population around the world is growing--probably faster than every other demographic group, with those 50-59 growing almost as fast, since 2017 we've seen no increase in the employment representation of these groups. These groups represent about 30-percent of the world's population, yet within the walls of WPP, they are represented at less than 10-percent. 

In other words, if the world were made up of 100 people, 30 would be fifty or older. If WPP were made up of 100 people, 9 would be fifty or older. So, in terms of age-equality with a score of 100 meaning equal, WPP gets about a 28.

I have questions, of course.

And as always, I'll give space to any representative of WPP to write a response to this. I'll print it as is--with no editorial oversight on my part, aside from cleaning up grammar and spelling issues.

1. Why of all the "isms," racism, sexism, and others, is ageism acceptable?

If this statement is more than propaganda, why does it not apply to people 50 and older?

2. If WPP's age discrimination continues in the future as it has for the last seven years, why doesn't WPP issue a statement I'll call, "Age Discrimination: Why it's fair." 

Clearly, age discrimination cuts against the grain of WPP's avowed egalitarian beliefs. Why don't they tell us why that's ok?

3. Where have all the Clients gone? If discrimination of the sort perpetrated by WPP against people 50+ were being visited upon any other group, women, people of color, lefties, Clients would protest. Here we have pin-drop silence.

Which leads me to my final question.

4. Why is Age Discrimination legal? Or, better, since it's not, why is WPP allowed to flout the law with absolute impunity? 

My "firing class" back on January 14th, 2020 included 50 people. Twelve percent of those were over 60. 

Since only two percent of WPP is over 60, that means people 60+ were fired at 600 percent the rate of the rest of the population. Again, why is this ok?

I'd imagine the age scenario is much the same at IPG, Omnicom, Publics, Accenture, Dentus and Havas. These are the components of the oligopoly that control 80-percent of the jobs in the ad industry.

I make my same rebuttal offer to representatives of these holding companies and their law-firms.

Holding Companies, if you want to say I'm wrong and you're right, this is your chance.

Finally, if there's anyone left in the trade-press or any other investigative entity, I'm happy to talk. I'm even happy to hear I'm wrong.

A new feature. The obligatory survey:

Friday, March 24, 2023

Tales from the Crypto.

My sophomore-year Samuelson.

If you've taken a single college course in Economics, you were probably introduced to the notion of "substitute goods."

It's a pretty simple idea.

If something gets too expensive, consumers buy a cheaper alternative. So chicory instead of coffee. Margarine instead of butter. A Chromebook instead of a computer. GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company instead of a mammoth holding company agency. 

The Economist recently published a glossary of a couple of hundred economics terms. It's a good thing to know about. I have the URL stored on a top-secret document I used to save great URLs. The glossary also includes a phrase called "substitution effect," which is not all that different in meaning from substitute goods. They define it this way:

There's a reason behind my foray into Econ 101.

Not too long ago you could hardly spit without hearing something about Cryptocurrency. Crypto was nominally a substitute good for what we used to call money. But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why I needed it. Unless I decided to launder money like I was a drug-dealer, a politician or I ran an international sports organization.

For now anyway, or until the next tender bubble, Crypto has disappeared like a fart in a typhoon. You don't really hear about it anymore.

But before Cryptocurrency's grave was even cold, another substitute good has taken over our attention. It's another Crypto. It's another answer to a question I'm not sure was ever asked or needed asking. Why do we need more artificial communication?

That Crypto is AI. Writing and Design.

And along with its advent, the Gartner Hype Cycle (also known as the Dutch Tulip Frenzy, the South Seas Bubble, the Credit Immobile Scandal) is being fully unfurled and brandished like a Confederate flag, or a Nazi flag at a Trump rally.

Related to this, I think the question ad agencies and brands must answer is a supremely simple one.

How do we want to treat people?

Or more elemental, what are people?

Are we all brothers? Or are we just a potential profit opportunity?

We can follow our current course and speed and provide inhuman-machine-based interactions that alienate, frustrate and drive-away customers. This seems to be the path most brands and agencies will follow. It seems to be the course they are following now, when virtually every brand-human interaction leaves humans with the sour taste of bile in their mouths. 

I've yet to have a good machine-based conversation. I feel about them like I feel about that mail you get nowadays where you have to rip four tiny sides of perforation to get your check. These things take too long to open. And I almost invariably tear something the wrong way. 

They piss me off. But that's ok. Because apparently I'm not worth two-extra-cents to the company mailing those perf-checks. I'm just a bio-mass, like Sargasso seaweed. I'd be better off burnt or rotting and releasing methane.

They will claim there are AI efficiencies they can realize that will send their stock-price soaring--even as their woeful service drives away millions of customers.

The question with substitute goods--whether it's margarine instead of butter, cryptocurrency instead of fiat currency, or crypto-creativity instead of human-creativity is almost always the same.

It's not 'what is the immediate cost?' Substitute goods, almost by definition are almost always cheaper. The question should be this: what are the long-term and ongoing costs of substitute goods? 

What are the long-term costs of shoddy quality, inferior performance and lower-satisfaction?

Oscar Wilde was said to have described cynics as those who "know the price of everything and the value of nothing."

I worry that agencies and brands that embrace the latest cryptos and the next and the next are behaving cynically. And all of us, in going along with their way of thinking, are trapped by a never-ending and ever-spreading Dupeocracy.

I worry more that we've created a world where every person hates every company, that no complaint no matter how valid ever gets resolved to anyone's satisfaction and that everything gets progressively unprogressive until the whole thing collapses and the rats and pigeons of our once great cities are beginning to look like dinner.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Herman and Dylan.

Melville died in 1891. 
Almost thirty years later, the manuscript of Billy Budd was alleged to have been found
 in a breadbox belonging to Melville's granddaughter. 

A hastily-edited version was rushed to publication in 1924. 
My guess is if Melville were alive today, he'd still be editing it. 

For about as long as I've been in the advertising business, or--better--the consciousness business, I've been something of a solo act.

It's not that I don't like people, I do.

It's not that I don't trust people, I do.

It's not that I'm a loner, I'm not.

It's just that for as long as I've lived I've trusted attained wisdom more than received wisdom.

That's a fancy way of saying I'd rather find something out for myself than be told what to do.

Maybe that comes from having had a fairly strict academic background. I started out wanting to be a college professor. And while I am 43-years deep into my advertising career, I've never fully given up on my original aspirations.

When I was doing scholarly research, I was searching for truths myself. I didn't have someone telling me what they thought the white whale meant and turning their thoughts over to me for stylistic rendering. You learn more and you think more and you delve more when you do your own thinking. 

Further, you learn more when you're forced to explain your own thinking. Vocalization uncovers shortcomings or logic gaps. When you talk things through, you have time to think them through and make them better.

For most of my career, I've dealt with something I've only recently voiced. I didn't have, until about five years ago, the confidence to say this aloud.

Most briefs are what I call "dump-truck briefs." 

A veritable dump-truck-full of charged ions of information spinning around the nucleus of a brand.

Dump-truck briefs are the best kind of briefs. 

Not the simplest, but the best kind. Because they are the most demanding kind of briefs. 

They demand the deepest sort of thinking, the soakiest-immersion and the widest canvas. They don't tell you in answer, they give you reams of information that good creatives will combine with their knowledge of human behaviors and the human condition to find a connection. To find a truth as to how a brand helps a person.

Somehow in our modern advertising world, we have decided that getting to an executable brief is too difficult for copywriters and art directors. In fact, the best copywriters and art directors, the best creatives in any field from physics to flatulence are people who never accept easy answers and never stop looking for the hidden. 

I heard Steven Heller the designer once in a conversation with Milton Glaser. Heller repeated the common statement that "less is more." Glaser sat back in his chair.

"I've heard that all my life," Glaser said. "And I don't believe it. If you go home tonight and you have a Persian carpet, or a Kelim, or something elaborate, sometimes more is more. They're complex. They force you to look and make connections. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes more is more. Sometimes more is enough."

I listened to a 36-minute interview the other day with Tony Brignull, the most-awarded English copywriter ever. He was talking about Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP) perhaps the best English ad agency ever. 

Tony said, for the first two weeks after getting a brief, just about every agency was as good as CDP. After two weeks, however, no agency was better than CDP. CDP kept thinking. 

More is more.

That's the thing about most processes of discovery. I'd bet in physics a hundred people got 90-percent as far as Einstein. In baseball, a lot of hits get 90-percent of the way to hitting a double. And a lot of relationships get 90-percent of the way to being long-lasting and powerful. 

But it's the work that's done after the work is done that is the most important work. The thinking you think after everyone else is done thinking.

When I worked in agencies, it was usual for me to count planners as my best friends and closest confidants. They're usually the people I run my earliest thoughts, scribbles and ideas by. 

To my mind it makes no sense to separate creative people from reading and fact-finding and, mostly, digging. It makes no sense to have creatives who are more stylists than diggers. 

Of course, epiphanies can strike like lightning. Most often though, epiphanies, like ditches, canals and tunnels come from digging. I think you have to break a lot of crayons to draw a picture--even a child knows that. You have to bang a lot of keys to write a sentence. You can get help along the way: planners, partners, account, clients.

But it's up to you to keep working.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think about an assignment I had in the 80s or the 90s that I did a good job on. Maybe won an award for.

It comes to me that if I had re-written what I did this way or that, it might have been better. 

That's not merely neurosis.

That's a ballplayer thinking how this at bat can make his next at bat better. It's keeping a 'book' on everything you do so you can try to improve.

Even if you don't make your current work better, you might make your next assignment better.

As Dylan Thomas wrote, that's "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower."

Someday, we'll figure out what that, and everything else, means. Or we won't.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Twelve Rules for Modern Living.

The more times I circle the sun, the more times I see inequalities between rich and poor, the more upset the state of the world makes me. 

To help me deal with some of things those crushing things, I've been creating some rules that help me cope.

Here they are. 

1. Never invest in a company whose name doesn't tell you what they do to make their money. 

2. Never invest in a company that has a logo that looks better made and better designed than the products they make.

3. Never invest in a company that promises to take you on a journey. Unless they're tour guides.

4. Never invest in a company that spends more on advertising than they do on customer service. It means they want your money but don't want to spend money to keep you happy.

5. To that end, never invest in a company that puts its name on a stadium or arena. (See 1 and 2.) It means they have too much money to spend on promotion. 

6. Never trust a company that says it can change everything with giant results, little work and no unintended consequences.

7. The same for an ad agency. 

8. The same for people and politicians.

9. Never trust the management of a company that can hardly be bothered to visit and walk around the floors where their actual workers actually work.

10. Never trust a company that rewards you in miles or bonus points or takes your status away. They believe loyalty can be bought and doesn't have to be earned.

11. Don't buy from companies that bust unions or protest increases to the minimum wage while the C-Suite has eight-or-nine-figure compensation packages.

12. To that end, don't trust companies that use phrases like compensation packages. They're using fancy language to conceal their executive grift. 

I could probably come up with more, but I'm busy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Word of the Day.

For about as long as I've been in advertising, which if you count growing up and escaping from a suburban sump-pump financed by my father, who was in advertising as well, it all adds up to 65 years and some months in the business. Yet it seems to me that we in advertising have not yet decided who we're talking to.

Back in David Ogilvy's time, he called them "consumers." As in "the consumer is not a moron; she is your wife." I suppose some print-focused agency, back when there was such a thing, called them readers. Whereas TV-centric places might regard them as viewers.

For about the last two decades or so, we've borrowed language from serial killers, mass murderers and United States 'peace-keepers.' Today we call those we speak to "targets."

There are those in our ranks, like me, who find that term odious. We prefer to call those we speak to customers--not consumers, ie. a little more than giant eating-machines--or even people. But surely the word 'people' is homo-sapienist or bi-pedalist and will, before long, be regarded as refractory and "triggering." 

As Alexander Pope, the lock-raping poet wrote so many centuries ago, "the proper study of mankind is man," we in advertising might endorse a similar sort of statement, "the proper purpose of advertising is extraction."

That is, it seems the industry behaves like a 1900s coal company. We assail all around us. We seek to extract time, money, attention, data, more data, and more money from whoever is in our thrall. 

Unlike the great monopolists of old, whom through their belated charities resurrected their family names and reputations, the Mellons, the Carnegies, the Fords, the Rockefellers, the Armours, the Swifts, the Waltons and so it goes, today's monopolists make yesteryears’ look like they were playing a kid's game. Hopscotch, cat's cradle, or chicken with a switchblade. 

Whereas Rockefeller and his ilk had to sell you more oil to get more money, today's monopolists are what's coming to be called "bionic." They take your data and your money and sell it over and over again. Arbitraging your humanity into their lifetime annuity. Not only do they gain $150 billion fortunes, they gain further the heavily paid-for and well-legislated right to pay no taxes. 

I wonder if, after the recent spate of tech layoffs, if radical right-robin-hood-republicans (they steal from the poor and give to the rich) will have the brass to continue calling themselves “job creators." I suppose so. They hide their evil behind low everyday prices that you never stop paying. And no one will realize until it's too late, that we sold our humanity to save 21¢ on sesame-seeded hamburger rolls that will stay fresh for years for all their destroying-preservatives.

In any event, back to the subject at hand.

What do we call those forced to watch, read, or be assailed by the always-on, always-dumb, always-lie-based messaging we work so hard to create.

Target? No. Consumer? No. Customer? No. People? No.

I propose the following:

E4. Or E4.

That is 

Epidermally Encased Economic Entities.
        1.              2.             3.               4.

In most advertising I see, we are no longer speaking to anything that resembles a human. 

In fact, we are no longer speaking at all.

We are shouting at the top of our lungs. Our assault on taste, logic, kindness and sensitivity never abates. Our non-stop blandishments aren't moderated, mitigated, or otherwise softened by wit, humor, an appeal to logic or anything else that might make the screaming and the too-loud mix and the too-numerous assaults less-unpalatable than stepping in fresh dogshit while wearing lug-soled boots.

The E-ization of our business is everywhere. In the last 20 years or so, it seems we've doubled the number of commercials per-pod (while swapping out :30s for :15s. So in the 20 minutes/hour we have of commercials, we might get 80 messages rather than 40.) 

Plus, though the amount of air-time dedicated to commercials has increased, production budgets have decreased. So we see the same spots over and over. If they were barely funny the first time you saw them, by the one-hundred and first, you probably envy Napoleon and his exile on St. Helena. I'd rather be far-away off the grid than within spitting distance of about 95-percent of the blight we call television commercials.

Further, of course, the price we pay to watch television has doubled in at least one additional way.

We used to get TV for free and pay for that programming by giving advertisers our eyeballs, and nominally our attention, for twelve minutes out of 60. 

Now we pay extortionately to monopoly cable providers--$200-$400/month and pay an additional eyeball fee of twenty minutes out of 60. We pay for crap twice and shut the fuck up.

There was a quaint notion when I was a boy that advertisers were an uninvited guest into people's living rooms. Therefore we should be polite, kind, and helpful. Like a good guest.


Now, in the era of Stormy Daniels acceptable blowjobbery and ass-whackery, we are uninvited guests onto people's laps or pockets. And we rifle through those very pockets with well-trained and fully-emulsified fingers.

As an industry, we are as welcome and as thoughtful as Chlamydia.

And harder to get rid of.