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. Their 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.

Monday, March 20, 2023

21 Things I Don't Understand About Marketing Today. And Never Will.

1. I don't understand how I've never signed up for an email newsletter but I unsubscribe to about ten a week.

2. Why it takes a week to remove your name from an email newsletter mailing list.

3. The purpose behind email newsletters in the first place.

4. I don't understand how it seems every agency is "agency of the year," or "most innovative," and I can go months without seeing a decent spot on television.

5. The same for all the people claiming they're the world's 14th-best associate creative director.

6. Speaking of associate creative directors, I don't understand how no one remembers Billy Wilder's great quip that "an associate producer is anyone who associates with a producer."

7. I don't understand dancing in commercials. Or asinine A.I. aids like above.

8. How anyone could write dancing into a script. How anyone could approve it. Or how any director could shoot it.

9. I don't understand what happened to all the Holding Company diversity efforts and why we've heard nothing about progress (or lack of progress) since the initial PR onslaught about three years ago. See this from three years ago.

10. I don't understand how a Holding Company could win Network of the year having shed 50,000 employees over the last half-decade.

11. I don't understand how an industry can exist with no investigative journalism questioning its statements and actions.

12. I don't and never will understand open-plan workspaces. They've been proven to reduce productivity, increase illness and incite attrition, but they prevail.

13. I don't understand where new words come from. For the first 55 years of my life the only things that were transparent were windows and Saran Wrap, now everything is, though nothing is.

14. I don't understand why no one in any agency reviews rough-cuts by inserting the cut in a real of 12 other spots, so you can see the spot as people will actually view it, that is surrounded by eleven other spots that look, sound and feel identical.

15. I don't understand why pharma commercials are even allowed on television. I think the world would be better if we heard less of the word 'diarrhea' set to music.

16. I don't understand why so much acting seems synonymous with screaming.

17. As for the Spectrum spokesperson who screams $49.99 twelve different times in 12 different scenarios in 20 seconds, I don't understand how people can see that spot and not be pro-abortion.

18. I don't understand what 'borderless creativity' means. Worse, I don't care. Worse worse, whatever it means, it sounds like a lie.

19. I don't understand freelancers who tell the world 'I'm available.' That seems to betray a lack of understanding of the basic precepts of marketing.

20. I don't understand why we have the word "Officer" in titles. It's as if ad agencies think we live in the same world as Gomer Pyle, and maybe we do.

21. I don't understand why no one replaces the word "Officer" with Ossifier, that is 'to become set in a rigidly conventional pattern.'

Friday, March 17, 2023

Bionic Monopolies.


I was thinking, as I so often do, about people who have worked the system so they, in effect, have a toll-booth at each end of the bridge. In other words, people who get, coming and going. And they keep getting, regardless of how others are schtupped.

This seems to be the way of the world today. Maybe it always was.

In Olde England, you were beholden to the Lord of the Manor, usually a friend of a noble of some sort. You farmed his land, paid him rent, shed blood in his wars, paid his interest, gave him droit du seigneur and died in-debt to him as your heirs and hairs were eternally be-serfed.

We seem to have that today. In a nation where many are born into debt, get further and further deeper into debt, have no healthcare, education, recreation or social mobility and die beholden to someone somewhere.

In advertising, our institutionalized "corvee" works like this: we take our low wage because our job is "cool." We do commoditized work that advances neither our clients, ourselves or our agencies because that's what's mandated. We work unpaid about 50% of our hours (while our agencies are paid) because that's how you get ahead, and we are thrown out at 40 for being too old. 

As for Bionic monopolies, here's how I understand the term, or perhaps misunderstand it.

Old time monopolists, like Frick, Schwab, Rockefeller and Carnegie, dominated markets. You went to them or you went without.

Frick, Schwab and Carnegie sold 95% of the steel in the US--but they could only sell it once. Rockefeller sold 90% of the oil--but only once. Swift and Armour, 90% of the meat--but only once.

Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix, CVS, Walmart and their ilk sell you products, but own your data identity. They sell it and sell it and sell it and sell it. You and your endless stream of data are their product.

Maybe there's a backwater of an eddy for the four Holding Conpanies that control at least 70% of the jobs in the ad industry. Keep your mouth shut and your head down or you'll never work in this town again.

Here's a bit from The Nation, I'll admit, a liberal journal. Nevertheless, here are some facts. Not sure what you and I can do about any of this (even though not long ago ad agencies were proclaiming 'the consumer is in control') but it might make sense to at least know you're being fucked coming and going when you're being fucked coming and going.

Usually on Friday, I try to write something funny. A reward of sorts to thank my readers and to give them something fun for making it through the week.

This Friday, I blew it. 

I don't have a monopoly on funny.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Rise over run. And run over rise.

The advertising industry I grew up with--the industry my Uncle Sid worked in starting 1945 and my father worked in starting 1952, was an industry that reflected America, at least America's rosier view of itself.

Today, of course, many in advertising claim our job is to shape culture. 

I'm more of a believer that we reflect culture and present to our viewers an idealized picture of American life. For instance, America is the fattest nation in human history. But everyone in every soda, beer and Doritos commercial has abs that would make Alain Delon jealous.

As I walk through the world today as an old man in a young world, I feel many times, like an alien from a faraway galaxy. Many of the standards and values--both big and small--that I grew up and which are inculcated in my worldview, have become undone. Little things which in my day were the lubricant of social and commercial intercourse are no longer a part of today.

At the cheese counter of Fairway, one of the biggest cheese counters in New York:

GEORGE: Do you have any cheese from Portugal?


At a newsstand, asking for an issue of America's third-largest newspaper:

GEORGE: Do you have the Wall Street Journal?

NEWS-SELLER: What's that?

On the phone with a high-end appliance store as my wife re-does our Connecticut kitchen:

GEORGE: How long will it take to get the 42-inch Sub-Zero?

APPLIANCE PERSON: At least nine months.

At the bagel shop virtually every morning:

GEORGE: One everything, one plain, one pumpernickel.

BAGEL PERSON: Corn muffin, poppy, sesame?

GEORGE: No. Everything, plain and pumpernickel.

BAGEL PERSON: Salt, poppy?

GEORGE: No. Everything, plain and pumpernickel. 
(Walks home with everything, plain, poppy.)

Those four real instances of "customer service" have happened to me in the last few months. To my eyes, the first depicts a lack of caring and an ignorance of substitute goods. The second, a general ignorance of my generation and the institutions we deemed important. The third, an overall lack of service, and a lack of caring about a customer's needs. The fourth, an utter lack of listening and attentiveness.

I get the feeling from everything I see and hear in the world, how agencies are (under)staffed and how so few accounts now are agency-of-record relationships, that the four examples of interactions I've described above are not dissimilar to interactions between agencies and clients today.

My guess is clients feel like I feel when I go to virtually any store for virtually anything.

I can't get what I want.

The store itself is often sloppy and badly stocked.

I can't find anyone to help me and guide me.

I'm often dissatisfied with what's being offered and the price I'm being made to pay.

The prevailing ethos in modern America is that consumers--that's you and me--demand low prices. We pay for those low prices with a shitty shopping experience, no service and often cruddy products. In the same way we allowed giant companies like General Electric kill our waterways, like the Hudson River, with 'forever chemicals' like PCBs--and not be responsible for clean-up, we're allowing so-called service companies to bilk the system in return for what are allegedly low-prices.

Now that it seems so many advertising accounts are run through procurement and wins are based largely on advantageous pricing, I can't imagine that the collateral effects of low pricing--rotten service--hasn't hitched a ride.

What no one seems to realize is that low prices--no matter where you supposedly get them--have a high cost.

Walmart has a sizable percentage of its workers on public assistance (which you pay for with your taxes.) One of New York's energy companies is decommissioning the giant Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant about 30-miles from Manhattan. For decades they provided lower-cost energy to millions of New Yorkers. Now, however, they want to release millions of gallons of "heavy water" into the beleaguered Hudson River. They claim they can afford no other way to dispose of the waste. We pay for that, too. And will until the veritable end of time.

The point in all this is everything has a cost.

And low prices are one of the most expensive things you can buy.

And, as we used to know in New York, you can pay me now, or pay me later.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023


For about five years, early in my career, I worked day-in and day-out for the fourth-largest bank in New York City.

This was no easy job.

The bank itself was divided into two parts. The retail part--their 400 or so branches in New York and New Jersey. And their corporate part, which 35 years ago, mostly involved taking a vig on large-scale wire-transfers from money centers in Europe to New York.

The banking business at its most elemental isn't that much different than building a castle in the sand at the beach. You have to balance how much to take out and how much to put in to keep the edifice you're building from collapsing. Take out too much--sand or money, collapse. Put in too much--sand or money, collapse.

The bank used its retail business like a savvy kid might use a plastic shovel. When they needed funds, they offered high rates on CDs and savings accounts. That would attract money.

When they had a surfeit of funds, they'd offer lower rates on mortgages and other sorts of home loans. 

I wrote about two ads a week for five years helping the guys in a $3000 suits keep the bank's ledger-based balance. If an ad didn't pull in money or push out money, you'd be on the hook to come up with one that did the job.

During my five years in that job, I rose from copywriter to Sr. Vice President Group Creative Director, because I worked hard to understand the why-fors and where-fors of what I was doing. I didn't just have an assignment to do another ad. I felt the pressure of helping the bank stay in balance. During those same five years, I learned more about the bank and its products than the bankers themselves.

When I left for what I had hoped would be greener pastures, Frank S., the marketing SVP of the bank wrote me a note. 

"I don't know what we're going to do without you. You're the only one here who knows the difference between a home loan and a home-equity-line-of-credit."

In the grand advertising scheme of things, that ain't much. It certainly wasn't the kind of thing that would get me into Wieden or Chiat. 

But I wonder.

I wonder if that's why advertising has become so unimportant to so many people--and worse to so many business leaders. Because no one in advertising has the wherewithal or the incentive to live and breathe a brand, and therefore find out what makes it different. 

How can you show something off to its advantage if you don't understand what that something is?

Very few ads today--in any category from automobiles, to telcos, to airlines, to hotel chains, to QSRs, to FMCGs, to beer/seltzers, to agencies themselves, could pass the thumb test. If you covered their logo with your thumb, could the ad be for anyone?

Are all products really all that similar that every car commercial has virtually the same casting spec, on the same road, in the same weather, with the same voiceover saying the same words.

I just took ten minutes and went through some 60-year-old Volkswagen ads. 

I highlighted facts. 

I can't believe that facts no longer exist.

I do believe that agencies and clients, in an effort to squeeze every productive hour out of every productive worker, have created a system that practically assures that the advertising we commission, create, pay for and run will be wholly unproductive.

Instead of "optimizing" how much clients and ad people know about their customers and the products we sell, we've decided to optimize their hours and eliminate their downtime. Time I always used to learn stuff the people I was trying to get ahead of were not willing or able to learn.

The clients GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company has today--everything from complicated technologies, to safer, more profitable chickens, to a healthier frozen pizza, to more thoughtful financial management--know that through the years I have earned a PhD. in their products. And every day I am taking self-taught continuing ed classes.

Advertising exists to differentiate.

To make Four Brothers Deli's turkey sandwich sound better than Five Brothers Deli's turkey sandwich. To do that job you actually have to sample the sandwiches. You might have to learn about them.

You can't differentiate only through cinematic technique, music and 26-letters rearranged.

It takes much less than that.

An idea.