Monday, July 31, 2023

That's Gold.

So many decades ago, the earth was a tad cooler, and I think Jimmy Carter was president, I was studying English literature, on my way, I hoped to my Ph.D. and a career of teaching English at some elbow-patched tweed college in New England.

I never wanted a career in the fleshpots of Madison Avenue. I grew up watching materialism, keeping-up-with-the-Jones-isms and the Angstrom-like pursuit of ever-more, kill my father and the best minds of my generation. I wanted nothing of Paul Stuart suits, and three-martini breakfasts and hot-and-cold-running secretaries.

I assumed a life of teaching Edith Wharton or Theodore Dreiser to doe-eyed coeds and putative finance-bros would remove me from the hurly-burly of life. I could write my books, stroll along leafy campus lanes and stay out of the way of the great American Mammon-athon.

I remember reading Dreiser's "Sister Carrie," and a professor pointed out that Carrie's lover, Hurstwood, who steals money from a safe immediately regrets it. He'd return the money, except as fate would have it, the safe had already shut. And as Caesar said when crossing the (Young &) Rubicon, "alea iacta est." "The die is cast." 

Some years later, a movie came out called "Shoot the Moon," directed by Alan Parker and starring Albert Finney and Diane Keaton and written by Bo Goldman. Goldman's obituary was in the paper last Thursday, July 27, 2023. You can read it here.

Finney and Keaton play a married couple whose marriage, after fifteen stormy years is breaking up. I haven't seen the movie since it came out in 1982, but I remember that there's a bottle-throwing scene when Finney storms out of the house. His hand pauses atop a doorknob. The camera holds on it. Finney knows if he opens the door and leaves Keaton, alea iacta est.

I remember saying to myself, "That's "Sister Carrie."

There's a similar moment in Hitchcock's "Psycho," when Janet Leigh, having pilfered $40,000 decided to go on the lam with it rather than return it.  Again, alea iacta est.

I'm thinking about all this irrevocable-ness because I read Bo Goldman's obituary on Thursday night and thought about how much of it seemed germane to good advertising writing. Specifically, Goldman's ability to find what we're all supposed to be looking for when we work on a bit of creative. In Bernbach's words, a "simple, timeless, human truth."

The director, Martin Brest, who worked with Goldman on "Scent of a Woman," and "Meet Joe Black," said this about him. I'm going to underline the parts you should remember.

“People call him the screenwriter’s screenwriter. I called him the man with the X-ray ears, because he had a pitch-perfect recall of the nuances of a comment that someone made to someone 50 years prior — he could reproduce the tone, and the reason he remembered it is because the tone told the whole story.”

And then there's this.

When Brest and Goldman were working on "Scent of a Woman," Brest recalls that he and Goldman would have "long, meandering chats."

Brest says, "We've been talking for two weeks and having the greatest time, but shouldn't we get to work?"

According to Brest, Goldman said, "Mike Nichols told me, 'the digressions are the work, or part of the work."

I suppose like a lot of the posts I write, and I hope I'm not being unduly immodest, there's a lot in here.

There's Sister Carrie.

Alfred Hitchcock.


And even a bit on advertising.

But mostly there's a bit of advice from an old man.

Develop x-ray ears.

And seek digressions.

They could mean gold, man.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Spitting Image.

I had a meeting with clients yesterday.

In a beautiful office space over 600-feet above Grand Central on a blueish day where the air was Canadian smoke-free enough so that you could almost see down to the bubbling asphalt at street-level.

Since covid and, worse, covid-disinformation, darkened the world, in-person meetings have become all-too infrequent. While I'm no great fan of undue schlepping, there is much to be said for shaking someone's hand, sitting down with them and talking through client problems, or as account people call them, opportunities.

This client is the best kind of client.

Not because of their size, or the quality of the seltzer in their office, or how much they pay me, or even because I like them personally. 

They're the best kind of client because they spit.

Let me explain.

After my meeting last night, I hustled uptown on the number 5 Lexington train to meet a friend and fellow ad-guy at a relic of a restaurant, an old Irish bar on Lexington in the low 60s called Donohue's. It's the kind of place Ray Milland might have stumbled into looking for an alcohol coma in Billy Wilder's great movie "The Lost Weekend." 

The decor I'm sure is the same as it was in the early 1950s, as are the gum-cracking-Rosalind-Russell-waitresses. In fact, the only thing that's changed about Donohue's is the prices. A Caesar salad with grilled chicken rang in at $32 which might have led Caesar himself to say, "Veni, Vidi, Brown-baggi."

I was telling my friend about my client meeting and this came out.

"Without over-using the word 'genius' as so many people do today, I've worked with a few geniuses in my time. And one thing they have in common is they often spit when they talk.

"Errol Morris, so-and-so and so-and-so. So-and-so spits all the time."

"Definitely," my friend replied. "So-and-so froths, and so does so-and-so." He mentioned two of the biggest names in advertising from about 1970 till today.

"That's what I had today. Enthusiasm. Excitement. Spitting."

In the Corporatist, Private Equity, Plunderocractic world we live in, it's considered gauche to have a pulse, to get excited, to gush with enthusiasm. Our spiritual role models these days are the tight-assed, thin-lipped money guys with names like J. Frotherington Snottingham. 

To them, any display of humanity, including but not limited to the effusion of vital bodily fluids is to be scorned. They are cold, analytical and emotionless. And that's on a good day.

Imagine if PowerPoint was a person and you've got it.

Since I was 29, I've worked for about a dozen Hall-of-Famers. They all, even if their glory days were long gone, spit. 

They all couldn't contain their enthusiasms.

Today we live in a technocratic world where enthusiasm, even energy, are all-but mandated out of the system.

Do an ad for a social-media channel and you get a list of best-practices, musts, can'ts and other dicta that relegate what you do to near-prescriptive. You're in effect coloring within the lines without even a crayon. Television isn't that much better. There are so many rules and so much surrounding clutter and so many rampant watch-outs that it's all you can do to get through your :06, :10, :15 or :30 without pissing someone in some focus group somewhere off.

If you think about what we do at its most stupidly fundamental, we light fires.

We do work to excite people about the things we're selling.

We're trying to make people spit, in effect.

As an industry, that's not how we think anymore.

We're no longer about saliva.

We're begging for surviva.

And it's not very exciting.

Thursday, July 27, 2023



Stop it.

It's disgusting.

And it's obvious you're being different only for effect. Your innovation doesn't improve anything. It's dumb and it's ugly. It's craven. And it has no material market value. 

It's attention-getting the same way walking around with your fly open is attention-getting. 

Actually, about 99.79-percent of the innovations I see are what I call "Stuntovations." A term approved by my friend, Darlene Cipriani, a gifted marketing and hard-working new business person.

Years ago, the research company Gartner came up with "The Gartner Hype Cycle." Many new products or technological innovations follow this course.

They don't live up to the initial fanfare. But they do something, eventually, to improve lives or aid productivity. 

Of course, any innovation, or new hire, for that matter, often brings forth "the law of unintended consequences." Meaning that not everything new is good. And not everything good is new. A new boss or CEO or corporate ownership can seem beneficent for a while. Until the first 11,000 jobs are cut. Then 11,000 more. Then receivership. You get the idea.

Tom Gauld, the great illustrator and author came out with this the other day. Similar to Gartner's Hype Cycle and a damn site funnier.

But today, innovations or stuntovations like the Skittles above or omen sulk's rebranded site, x, aren't meant to foment lasting change.

They're meant to lower the zipper of corporate blue jeans and draw eyeballs, not value, to a particular brand.

Their hype cycle is more cynical than Gartner's or Gauld's. It looks like this. And does way more harm than good.

I've spent a lot of my career working on technology brands where "innovations" come as often as birdshit at the beach. Along the way, I've developed a test to determine is something is a real innovation or if some company just needs to make some noise.

I call it, simply, the EZ-Pass test. 

If the product or service doesn't improve your life as much as EZ-Pass does, then it's what Latin scholars call a "Phonus Balonus." It's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

That's why you employ people like me.

Let me take these innovations and EZ-Pass them. Make them understood, sexy and therefore valuable.

Instead, brands hype their own hype.

Worse, they believe it.

They think people care.


Even bored people don't care.

Stop drinking the you-flavored Kool-Aid.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023


I'm a firm believer, even an infirm believer, in a creed that I'll call
"no one knows-anything-ism."

Whether you're coaching a baseball squad, trying to raise children, or creating commercials for a client, you never really know why, where, how or what for.

Maybe this is a leap too far--I am often the Bob Beamon of essay writing--but I've been thinking about these sentences since I read them early Saturday morning. It's about your head, and I'm still trying to wrap mine around it. 

"Learning new things is hard. Remembering what has already been learned is harder. 

"Any successful learning system, be it a brain or a piece of artificial-intelligence software, must strike the right balance between stability and flexibility. It must be stable enough to remember important old things yet flexible enough to learn new ones without destroying old memory traces—preferably for as long as it exists."

The article itself is from "The Economist," and you can read it here. The Economist, along with The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times, is a major part of my "auto-didactic" side.  While I'm not conversant in the latest happenings in the Barbieverse, and I sometimes walk alone along a rickety bridge of despond--the world is too much with me--I am also, in the words of Neal Postman, "not amusing myself to death." Reading from these journals, and the book-a-week I slog through, make me who I am.

I am-ness is not a victory. Survival is just that, survival. But I have lasted 65 centuries on this benighted orb. I care about people and most of the ten commandments, and the reading I do, I believe, makes me better at my job, better for my clients and a better, richer human being. 

If Frank Capra dubbed George Bailey "the richest man in town," because of his numerous friendships, I may be the luckiest. At least, through it all, my brain remains independent, interesting and avid. You count your blessings where you find them.

Of late I have been seeing a battery of doctors and nurses to try to arrest, or at least slow, my life-long descent into what William Styron called his "Darkness Visible," Winston Churchill called his "Black Dog," and Andrew Solomon called his "Noonday Demon." 

To alter another phrase from Hollywood's golden age, "depression doesn't run in my family, it gallops." It took my mother's life, my sister's and probably my father's, though he may have been too drunk to notice that.

So I work with people on my brain and my often lugubrious thought-patterns.

The brain is the most complex machinery on the planet. It makes the most-advanced human-built technology, from Quantum computers reaching their Q-bit quota to the Artificial Intelligence systems that we fear will soon be enslaving us, look like a pop-gun.

Consider this, also from The Economist: "Learning is a result of changes in the pattern of neural connectivity in the brain. Each connection between nerve cells, called a synapse, is a tiny gap between the ends of branches ramifying from such cells. Messages jump across these gaps in the form of molecules called neurotransmitters. Current estimates suggest there are 600 trillion synapses in a human brain."

That's 600,000,000,000,000 synapses, if I got my zeroes in order. That's more zeroes than a republican tax cut for the billionaire class and their supreme court lackeys.

What I've discovered--and coalesced of late, with regard to both people and agencies, are two words:

1. Possibility.
2. Probability.

There's a giant difference between the two.

People and agencies that dwell on the possibility that things will go wrong are often self-stymied, self-defeating, self-conscious, overly-cautious and self-abnegating. 

Probability people and agencies say, we've done something like this before, we've rolled the dice before, we've taken risks before and it's usually worked out. While there's a possibility we'll fall on our collective faces, there's a probability that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny and while past performance is no guarantee of future success, it ain't a bad predictor.

All this is a long jump, I suppose.

An old man using a lot of words to get to some simple statements.

Work your brain.
Feed your brain.
Free your brain.
Trust your brain.
Take care of your brain.

You're much better off exercising it than letting flab itself on the cultural and intellectual equivalent of Coco-Puffs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Webs. Tangled.

I want to talk about branding today.

And I'm not using the word branding the way too many people misuse it.

I'm not talking about a logo, a font, a set of colors and some misguided mishymashy mishagoss of words someone calls a 'mission statement,' I want to go back to almost pre-literate times and think about the purposes of symbols in communicating complex ideas simply in a crowded marketplace.

Branding symbols--logos, colophons, trademarks--had to be imbued with meaning or--tautologically--they were meaning-less.

If you had a shop before there was widespread literacy, you would hang an image of what you sold outside of your store. A button-maker would show a button. A chandler, a candle. A mohel, well, you get the idea.

In the world of publishing--the printing-press helped make books and magazines some of the first mass-produced goods, the colophon, or brand-mark, was meant to tell the reader "this came from a credible press and it is not iniquitous and evil. It abides by the dicta of the times." 

In short, the brand-mark, or branding, or logo, was a shorthand way of saying "trust me." Because at its simplest and purest a brand--everything it says, does and shows the world is supposed to mean that the brand is something you can trust to do what it says it's going to do. 

If you believe, as I do, that brands we like act like people we like, brands start with trust. You're probably not going to hang with a person or a brand who's a flat-out liar. Or even a partially-deflated liar.

But today, brands, from the giant global ones, to smaller local ones, like sports teams, to the companies we work for, to the plague of personal branding, it seems to me nearly every brand is lying. Taking more from you than they're giving and pretending they give a shit about you. 

In the parlance of British advertising from decades ago, they don't do exactly what it says on the tin.

They're liars.

Sorry if that's Old Testament bull-headed for you. If it is, you might find a different blog to waste your time on.

Further, they're trying to cover up their lack of honesty with some design-sleight-of-hand. Look at our new name, they seem to say. Our boffo new logo. They were all part of a multi-million dollar effort to improve our product and/or service. 

Only they don't.

Like musk changing a bird for an x, there is an aesthetic difference but nothing meaningful has changed. I'd be fine with this: "X. Twitter with 20% less hate speech." Or this, "Meta: Facebook with less ad fraud and surveillance capitalism." Or "Pepsi. Now with 20% fewer diabetic Black people." Or even, "Burger King. Same horsemeat, revamped 70s logo."

I personally am tired of American corruption from sea to shining sea.

Corruption seems everywhere. Companies, who a short-while ago, elevated people to Chief Diversity Officers, are now eliminating the position. It was never for real. It was only for show. Or universities that admit the rich at more than twice the rate as the ordinary. Or the defense-industrial-complex who are shipping cluster bombs to Ukraine and propagating the Orwellian notion of "defensive weapons."

It goes on without end. 

In what used to be the advertising industry, virtually every holding company and every ad agency plays the fake awards game. The fake numbers game. The fake account win game. And of course, the fake ad game. Oh, that last sentence, btw, got over 14 billion free impressions and won a platinum ocelot in the Bratislava Ad Festival.

Trust used to be the primary thing we wanted from brands. Now, an online magazine, The Drum, runs articles about the viability of fake ads--and industry denizens extol their value.

Fake is fake.

Fake presidents. Fake promises. Fake resumes. Fake santos. Fake language. Fake manipulation. Fake data. Fake people. Fake evidence. Fake allegations.

As an industry, our only real reason for being is to tell the truth about brands in a way that makes it easier for people to make decisions about which brands to buy. 

We serve our clients by telling truths. Not by spinning lies.

Just as a logo is nothing but a facade if it doesn't represent beliefs, behaviors and values, our industry is nothing if it doesn't do the same. 

As Bob Levenson wrote half-a-century ago in the house ad above for Doyle Dane Bernbach:

"And above all, the messages we put on those pages, on those television screens must be the truth. For if we play tricks with the truth, we die."

Not to amend Mr. Levenson, but it's worse than that. 

"If we play tricks with ourselves, we deserve to die."

Monday, July 24, 2023


We throw around phrases in the world today, like Popular Culture, without ever thinking of what that alleged culture is and who it's popular with.

In fact, we have, as an industry, I think, embraced a tautology, i.e. some circular reasoning: "If it's popular, it must be good."

I'm writing today because I think that that thinking is the ruination of a lot of things. Maybe our industry. Maybe originality and creativity. And further, it estranges a lot of people from brands, "culture," social media, and almost everything else.

To my glaucy ancient blues, the embrace--mania is a better word--to grab ahold of the "hot," the latest or the shiny-object du jour is a sickening appurtenance of the modern world. We, as a society, are like serial drug addicts experimenting with the latest death concoction always seeking a higher high, and when reaching that high, rejecting it for an even more soaring loft into destroying unreality.

Since 2023 began, we have 5G'd, Metaversed and NFT’d and Crypto'd. We have ChatGPT'd and Elon'd and Ukrained and Apple Goggled and, of course, Trumped and Trumped, and now we're deep into Barbie Barbarianism and everything is pink and pointless and along the way our minds and social feeds are clogged with "learnings," and lectures and lies about all that we're supposed to be gleaning from this, the one-true truth and phenomenon.

As a culture we are looking for the eternal amid the momentary. 


Let's start a "Supreme Being-of-the-Month Club." Let's find permanence from a cosmic Etch-a-Sketch. Let's find our personal code amid a trillion inane and unfounded tweets a day. And change it all tomorrow.

Right now, Barbie is everywhere. Afflicting our consciousness like a violent epidemic of explosive diarrhea. It's every ad, every post, every tweet, every "How Barbie will change marketing for ever." And "How Barbie will change changing the change in marketing forever." 

It goes on and on. Like a hurricane storm-front. 

Nuance is slaughtered. 

Independent thought is slaughtered.

In fact, with all the ubiquity, thinking itself is slaughtered. Everyone seems to pile on with the same thinking everyone else is thinking. 

What started as unique and interesting is vomitous. And our entire industry chooses to do the same as everyone else and proclaim it different. It's way easier than doing something different. It's way easier to plow over individuality and say, "if I do what they do, I'll be like they are, and I'll be unique just like everyone else is."

In other words, when 97.7-percent of everything you see and do is walking and working in some Orwellian New Speak Lockstep, or lock-jaw, maybe the road not taken is the road you should take. Maybe questioning, not blind band-wagon-leaping-upon, is the right move.

It seems to me as a society and an industry, we are chasing after bubbles. The stupidly popular ones.

Never realizing how quickly they burst.

And how little of substance they leave behind.

Friday, July 21, 2023


There's a commercial that's running and running and running that I absolutely abhor, and not just because it was done at Ogilvy.

I hate it because every aspect of it is false. The casting. The problem. The solution. The acting. Everything is just plasticine. 

It makes the Barbie movie look like Eisenstein's "Battle on the Ice," from his seminal movie "Alexander Nevsky." There, everything is real. It's human and relatable. The commercial I'm speaking of makes polyester feel gritty.

I saw the commercial again last night.

Mind you, I watch 25 minutes of TV a night. Jeopardy! and nothing more. Yet I see this spot over and again. 

I checked online.

This horrid spot has been running for more than two years. 

I know Broadway shows run for a long while. But if I, a light TV user have seen this spot 64,946 times, if it's made me cringe 64,946 times, if it's made me hate the client 64,946 times, how many times over the last two years has a heavy TV viewer seen it?

One of the things I did when I started GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, was think about everything clients told me they hated about working with a big agency. The slowness, the difficulty in getting a scope, the unresponsiveness to client needs, and their general ossification--you know, where they'd allow the same spot to run for over two years.

I decided to do the opposite.

I'm not, after all, monopoly-controlled. With me, you get choice. And someone who listens. 

So, early on, I developed an "offerings" list. If I had a phone call with a prospective client, I wanted to be able to send them a proposal within four hours. Having a list of offerings would help.

I first invented something I've had more than a modicum of success with. 

I call it the 3-6-3.

I spend three days learning, reading and talking to the client. Six days of writing and thinking. Three days on revisions.

The cost? A day-rate times 12. 

That seemed smart to me and clients love it. It's fast. Efficient. Productive. And I don't linger like a fart in business class. 

Next, I created something I call "The Nifty Fifty™." 

When I entered the business--way back when we had a print-based world, three print ads could feed a client for about 18 months. Now that print is primarily being used to pick-up after the dog, agencies and clients are still creating presentations the old-fashioned way--as if everything had stayed the same when in fact, so much has changed.

It occurred to me, in a social media world, you need a different ad every day. That's how you become something I call a "living, breathing brand." 

If you don't give people evidence that you're doing something interesting, why would they care about you? If they came to your website once, why would they come again, unless there was some spark, some news, something of value. 

I started using the matrix above. I had adapted it from a 1970s book by a professor at Duke called James David Barber. In his book, "The Presidential Character," he classified American presidents using this grid. Somehow I remembered it for almost 50 years and was able to apply it to the modern advertising business.

The Citizens spot above I put in the Active/Negative slot. It's energetically bad. I don't care what research says, people generally abhor the commercial yet they run the shit out of it.

I believe clients and agencies should be in the upper right. Do things people like. Do a lot of them. Keep it fresh and fun and surprising.

In a sense, my matrix aligns to the matrix below. It might take a moment to work out all the concord, but give it a go.

IMHO, the Citizens Spot is clearly in box 4.

I don't want my clients or my work anywhere but box 2.

Ergo, the Nifty Fifty™:

Lately, and maybe it's because of some vagary of today's economy, or whatever fear is running through the advertising market right now, I've been getting more clients interested in a Nifty Fifty™ than in a 3-6-3™.

One of the reasons that people hate advertising is that so much advertising is so hateable.

It has no news value. It provides no information. It doesn't entertain. And it's absent of kindness and humanity.

1. No news.
2. No information.
3. Not entertaining.
4. Phony.
5. Repetitive.

1. News.
2. Useful information.
3. Entertaining.
4. Realistic.
5. Fresh.

Whatever you do as a creative person, whatever you're looking for as a client, from the very beginnings of human time on our dying planet, good communications have had the attributes I've listed above, under the word Good.

I'm sure people will argue with that. They'll tell me that GenW thinks entirely different from any permutation of our species that has ever existed before and therefore we need to show gyrating people in three-second increments accompanied by too-loud percussions to reach them.

The other day, my friend Evelyn posted an eight-minute Apple Underdogs spot. 

Eight MoFo-minutes.

And I loved every MoFo one of those minutes.

Because of all the reasons I've pointed out so far.

There are a lot of ways to do crappy work. A lot of ways to make people hate your work and the brands we work for.

There's only one way to do good work.

Respect the viewer. 
Respect yourself.
Respect your profession.

I hope that's nifty enough for you.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Schmatta Regatta.

I walked back from the doctor just now, a routine medical visit in a country that hardly allows medical visits, routine or otherwise, and I stopped into Ottomanelli's. Otto's is a butcher shop of a bygone-style. They have sawdust on the floor and real trained butchers who will cut a steak to order and give you some tips on cooking it. Since I've lived across from the shop for a full quarter-century, they even call me by name and exchange pleasantries with my skirt steaks. 

It's amazing how much the biggest cities can be like small towns where, in the parlance of the old TV sitcom Cheers, "everybody knows your name," and I think there's an advertising lesson in there.

There was an older woman in the shop--by older I mean she was probably ten years younger than I--and she was going over her shopping list with Nick, the head butcher, er, not the head-butcher.

"You don't have red beans, do you? My friend wants red beans and rice. I don't have my glasses. Did I get everything else?" They went over her shopping list like the burglars in Jules Dassin's Rififi going over the plans to the jewelry shop's alarm system.

All at once, I flashed back to my sole experience as a retail employee. In the summer of 1978, just twelve years removed from Chicago's horrible long hot summer riots, I was a night clerk at a liquor store on Rush Street in a seamy section of downtown with parking lots and restaurants on one side of the shop and buy-a-bottle, get-a-girl bars on the other.

I was just 20 at the time and not yet of legal drinking age. But my older brother's social security number was just one off of mine, so I used his card and tax ID and secured a job using the very Georgian-line, "my name is Fred, but my friends call me George."

In terms of the boss' interrogation, I wasn't exactly dealing with Columbo, and the Bragno brothers, who still worked in the shop, hired me for the 4PM to midnight shift on the spot.

The job was a good one, at least to my not-so-wizened eyes. I enjoyed the people I worked with. I enjoyed chit-chatting with customers. And I enjoyed the tidal nature of a business where there are plenty of regulars. 

You got to see many of the same people every day--they needed their daily Smirnoff, or their pint of Courvoisier or just a six-pack or a pack of cigarettes. In addition to being paid $3.50/hour with six guaranteed hours at time-and-a-half, I also got to meet some celebrities.

I shook Minnie Minoso's World Series-ringed hand when he came in as a rep for Old Style beer. And I carried a case of expensive red wine to Claudette Colbert's limo. Though one of the Bragnos waited on her, she shook my hand as I placed the case in the trunk. I immediately thought of her in DeMille's Cleopatra, being presented to Caesar as she rolled out of a fine Persian carpet.

I bring all this nostalgia up because I think the ebbs and flows of working in retail are a lot like working in an agency. You have to have your head up and assess every customer or client. You have to be on your toes. You have to look for signs. That's how you serve people better and do better work.

As I said, there were the men and women who came in every day around 5:30. Their offices had just closed and they were on their way home and wanted a bottle. These people wanted good service, a smile, maybe a little small talk, a little reassurance. They were never going to buy a lot. They were never going to break from their routine. But they were good, solid customers and you had to treat them as such.

There are agency clients like that, too. They just want banner ads. Or help with a deck, or something incidental. They're never going to set the world on fire, or let you show them what you can do. But that doesn't mean they're not important to business. So you have to be important to them.

There were also the concave-thin Black parking lot attendants who would buy pints or half pints of the most expensive liquors we had in the joint. The back pocket bottles were easy-to-steal, so they were kept behind the counter, and the parking lot guys liked a little kibbitz with their brandy. There are clients like that, too. You don't get rich off them. But they have a need. They're good people who need a little upping to allay life's downings and you try to help when you can. 

Occasionally, I'd get out from behind the counter and wait on someone who was buying wine or liquor but who didn't know anything about wine or liquor. At the age of 20, I didn't know much either, but I had learned from the Bragno brothers good choices at almost every price level for almost every type of alcohol. I could make a recommendation without revealing my inherent ignorance.

Today these people remind me of agency clients as well. They don't know what they want and you have to deliver expertise, whether you have it or not. Though you could upsell the shit out of them, that doesn't really make sense. Even before consultancies like Bain began pontificating on how much more valuable a repeat customer is than an acquired client, if you work in a liquor store, you already knew that. 

There were a trillion customers and a trillion customer types. Some were nasty. Some were nice. Some were shoplifting. Some were furtive and underage. Some were just looking for something to do and maybe someone to jawbone with for a while. Some came in like they were on a commando raid. They got the goods, paid and were out in two shakes of a delirium tremens.

You learned pretty quickly, even as the night-cashier, to treat everyone who walked in the store as important. They're people, after all. 

I remember once, Bragno's had run an ad in the local paper that showed a quart of Tanqueray gin on sale at a price that was lower than the fifth. (A quart is 32 ounces; a fifth is 25.4 ounces.) A customer hadn't seen the ad and so was buying a fifth. 

I said to him, "Excuse me, sir, the quart is the same price and you get 32 ounces of gin. 20-percent more than a fifth for the same price."

One of the Mr. Bragnos heard me and later on, he chewed me out for giving a customer a bargain and losing the store two or three dollars. 

I suppose that's like advertising today, too.

You get yelled at for going over scope to do a good job because the agency didn't make as much as they might have. You were supposed to play things by the book and turn in something mediocre. I could never do that. Most people can't.

Just give a little more than you have to.

I still think that's good business.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Nobody Asked Me But, Late July Edition.

Nobody Asked Me But, is sporadic miscellany and my meagre tribute to the long-gone New York sportswriter, Jimmy Cannon. Mr. Cannon would write one of these columns when he could find nothing otherwise to write about. I suppose I'm doing the same.

Nobody Asked me But...

...It seems that every day someone in advertising announces they are on yet another jury.

...It's just possible there are more ad juries than there are ads.

...Someone should watch TV for a month, then calculate the number of ads they'd seen and the number of ads they'd seen that were entered in Cannes. 

...I'd bet the overlap would be less than three-percent.

...less than three-tenths of one-percent.

...I used to worry about the power of AI until I realized humanity can't even make a dental floss dispenser that doesn't break before you finish with the floss.

...I think hiring Margot Robbie to play Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, is very very bad casting. Must have something to do with the writers' strike.

...If someone posts a commercial over :60, I won't watch it unless they give me a money-back guarantee.

...RFK, Jr.'s father was no saint either. He rose to prominence defending red-baiter Joseph McCarthy. He was chief counsel to arch-racist and segregationist Senator John McClellan and he had Martin Luther King, Jr.'s phones tapped--subjecting him to blackmail by J. Edgar Hoover. 

...Twitter feels like a hotel in the Catskills just before the whole area was left for dead. For that matter, so does Elon Musk.

...Speaking of Elon Musk, Mole Sunk is an almost perfect anagram for him.

...If there were still Good Humor men today, they'd be micro-dosing people rather than selling ice cream bars. I'm sure we're worse off.

...Any brand that says "we're the official _____ of ______," officially has no ideas.

...If you fill up your hotel-room minibar, will they give you $9 for a can of Diet Coke and $7.50 for peanut M&Ms?

...This Volvo ad is one of the worst ads I've ever seen. I don't have a lot of "yous," just me and I don't know what a "mild hybrid" is, though I do have a mild case of acid indigestion.

...I'm recommending Jonathan Eig's "King" to everyone.

...Wouldn't it be nice if people read a little Black history before the next Black History Month. It would surely do more than merely changing your logo.

...I don't understand ads that open with a client's logo and usually a musical sting. Is that supposed to draw me in? There are very few brands where I sit up in my seat and say, "Shhhh, a new Hyundai commercial."

...Most ads I see today seem not to be created, produced, scored, mixed or acted by professionals. Everything contributes to an over-arching sense of cheapness and that customers aren't worth caring about.

...I have a feeling that the same Private Equity companies that own the major award shows, like Cannes, are also major owners of ad agency holding companies.

...I can't prove it yet, but as they used to say down at the Fulton Fish Market, "something stinks here and it ain't the fish."