Wednesday, June 28, 2023

War and Pizza. (Not Tolstoy.)

Of all the many things that frustrate me about the world today, three stand out.

One, is the acceptance of statements as facts. Many people seem to lack the curiosity to want to find out more. Or their cognitive faculties are so subsumed by the power of the corporatist world that we have stopped questioning statements or practices, no matter how unfounded or unprincipled they are.

Two, and related to one, is the gradual disappearance of investigative journalism--or journalism that is more than just the "flak" press, playing back PR and hype under the guise of reporting.

Third, is the slow and steady disappearance of facts. In our so-called data-rich era, real information is increasingly hard to come by, in part for reasons one and two above.

There's a lot I could rattle on about on this topic, but I need stray no farther afield than this week's news.

I read three newspapers and the Economist on Saturday morning, trying to get some sense of wtf was going on in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus--traditional Tannenbaum homelands. My people were being pogrommed there long before that was au courant. 

I could find nothing that wasn't sanitized to within an inch of complete sepsis, including the origin of the moniker "Wagner," for the insurgent mercenaries. Very little about a heavily armed and supplied set of billionaire adventurers named after Hitler's favorite composer, many of whom are tattooed with Nazi runes. 

Say what you will about Putin. I'd rather have him in charge of Russia than a horde of washed-up Hitlerite wannabees.

What's more, something major is going on out there with Wagner and Putin and the putative takeover of half a dozen countries on four continents by Russian proxies. Are we, the former united states, employing the same mechanisms in parts of the world we're bent on looting. Is this what's become of Blackwater, Xi or whatever the DeVos family is currently engaged in? [BTW, here's the website of America's second-largest, after Walmart, private employer: 650,000 mercenary soldiers posing as consultants.]

I come to all this, though, because of the news, or lack of news, from Cannes.


After rabbit-holing about Russia, Wagner and Nazis for a good hour or so, my social feeds blared that DDB was named Network of the Year at Cannes.

That struck me as odd--and I'll admit I'm an outsider here--because less than a month ago, DDB New York merged with Adam & Eve. This after a couple of years of wholesale executive changes, with senior leadership lasting at DDB for about as long as Trump can keep a lawyer or a merkin. To be brusque, I had considered DDB a relative non-entity in the agency world. Distinguished neither by creative nor business success. They seem, and I could be completely wrong, to have fallen off the agency radar.

When I came across this in a late-May issue of Ad Age, my suspicions were somewhat confirmed: "Adam&Eve has roughly 40 employees and DDB New York has about 140, according to a DDB spokeswoman, which suggests the merged entity will have about 180 employees."

If the flagship agency of the "Network of the Year," is down to 180 employees, something doesn't add up. To steal what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland and apply it here, "There's no there there."

So, I went searching for data.

How much annual revenue does DDB earn? What's their increase over previous years and their five-year trend? What client wins have they seen? What client growth have they contributed to?


The advertising trades used to publish this sort of information. No more. I can find nothing about the things that matter when you're evaluating the credibility of an agency or network.

  • Revenue.
  • YOY revenue.
  • Client retention.
  • Employees.
  • Employee retention.
  • Account wins.
  • Account loses.

I realize my tendency is to make things simple. It's my training. I believe in simplicity and strive for it

But if I were evaluating a baseball player for Most Valuable Player, I'd demand access to similar metrics.
  • Team performance.
  • Batting average or win-loss pct.
  • Game-winning hits, or wins.
Of course, not everything can be counted. And not everything that can be counted counts. But in baseball and advertising and world affairs, we seem to be operating in a data-less void. 

When it comes to awards at Cannes, I see the ad industry giving out over 600 awards to the film industry's 25. I haven't seen 600 good ads in the last decade, much less the last year--and I seek them out. I can't help but think that something nefarious is going on here. That there's some sort of pay-for-play scenario operating. Clearly someone is making money on the Cannestravaganza. And I'm not sure who's paying, how much, or what they get for all that expenditure.

Regardless of the answers, we have the right to ask the questions.

Right now, it makes me think that awards shows are operating like the Michelin Guide might if they decided to monetize their asses up that wazoo. So to make more money they'd offer awards and recognition to the best gumball machines. Not only would such an award denigrate the value of the awards given to restaurants, you'd never be told what made a gumball machine award-winning, just that it is. Revenue trumps all but the pursuit of more revenue.

If something has such value as a tool of evaluation, we ought to have some idea of its standards and the metrics behind its judgments. Without that, we've all just turned into moniker mongers. Whatever that phrase means, it ain't pretty.

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