Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Cataloguing.

One of the things that sucks about the World Wide Web, as I have written so many times before, is that it was created as a dumpster of information, not a library.

During the first of my two stints at Schmogilvy on IBM which lasted from 1999 to 2004, I tried to bring some editorial "reason why," to IBM's dot com. The phrase I was fighting against was this, a phrase I coined and repeated. "The IBM website has 4.5 million pages, that's 20,000 225-page books, and you can't find the same thing twice." 


My plan was to work to make IBM.com business' and technology's "first-read" every day. Like the stock pages and the Wall Street Journal are Goldman-Sach's first read, the Racing Form is Nicely Nicely's first read, and Advertising Age used to be the ad industry's first read, back when it was an industry and people could actually read.

Of course, making something a "first-read" requires money. Money for good writers, good designers, good editorial people. But IBM was unwilling to spend, say, $100,000/month promoting something they were spending $1,000,000 sustaining.

There's no Dewey decimal system for the online world. Finding things when you need them is hard. It's contingent on your own organizational abilities, your memory, and sheer luck. Search engines like Google (which I believe has about 93-percent marketshare) have been sold to the highest bidder. Type in something precise and you're likely to get something, instead, wholly off-base that someone paid for a chance to sell you. Perplexity, the AI-enhanced search engine, ain't much better. They all remind me of trying to get someplace with nothing but the Joan Blaue's "Atlas Maior of 1665," to guide you.

It's all nice to look at, and maybe interesting, but it ain't no road-map.







Through my decades as an advertising person, and my decades before that as an academic, I've done a good amount of work and spent a lot of time training my prodigious memory. 

I've found it helps to store things.

Everything.

Especially if you've developed a system that can help you find those things with greater than fifty-percent accuracy. (Serendipity is not to be discounted, it's also part of finding things.) 

Through those long years, the hard-drive on my personal Mac computer has expanded along with my waistline. I always max out the storage my Macs--because I want the things I save and need and reference to be near at hand.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now. I prefer filing cabinets.

I feel my ability to store and recall--the basic functions of human and computer intelligence--are part of my competitive advantage in a world with so many people willing to charge less than I do but who are invariably cooler and more glib, too.

I wish I had the ability to organize like my long-ago and now-and-then partner Sid has. His Pinterest page is worth decades of acumen and millions of dollars.

Below, for your whatever, a bunch of my favorite commercials through the years. I have thousands catalogued on various hard drives. That's all just the tip of the arugula. 

Storing things I like and feel I can learn from works for me. When my mind is stuck I have things to help get it out of a ditch. 

Besides, I don't know any other way. 























 

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Interlocking Directorates. Fiduciary Duties. Awe.

I read all the time. Frankly, as far as the advertising business goes, it's my competitive edge, like writing all the time is my competitive edge, and you can't really do one without the other.

At least I can't.

That said, if I read 50 books a year (a paltry number) 48 are giant tomes of "long history," and merely two are fiction. It's not that I don't like fiction--it's that it's harder for me to "get" without having someone to talk to about it, so somehow, I enjoy it less.

Often the fiction I do read is of the spy variety. I've allowed Graham Greene, Eric Ambler and John Le Carre a place in my life. 

When Le Carre's novel "Silverview" came out to much fanfare, I ordered it right away. I hurried through whatever else I was reading and moved it ahead to my on deck circle. My old boss and friend was similarly excited and we raced to see who would get to it first. 

Le Carre said of Smiley, his greatest creation, that "he had the gift of quiet." That phrase alone elevates Le Carre to the Pantheon. 

My old boss and friend was from Indiana, and I'm from Yonkers, New York, so my brass-knuckles, naturally, carried the day and bloodied his midwestern proboscis. I got to Silverview first. And within seconds of starting the book, I was agape and I sent my Hoosier competitor a note. 


Can you believe this writing, I asked. I've read it four times because it is just so good and so fluid and so dense. I remember reading this, closing my e-reader and reading it over and again. Yes, a moment of emotional wow, like seeing Van Gogh's painting, Dr. Gachet, in the flesh. You can't take your eyes away.


I bring all this up because the fake Cannes, the ad industry's one, is about to start. Forget, for a second, that the festival is owned by a British company called Ascential, which is also a major investor in many of the world's ad agency holding companies. Forget about the impropriety of that. Forget about that being like a restaurant paying its own reviewers. Or movie studios owning movie theaters.



No conflict of interest to see here.


Interlocking directorates. (An illustration.)


Interlocking directorates. (MBA stuff.)


Look past, also if you can, the subject-object split between the advertisements you see in the wild on that quaint technology we used to call TV, and the advertisements heralded at Cannes and promoted by advertising's corporate landlords. Forget that there's virtually no overlap between ads you see in the wild and ads that win awards. That's old school thinking. Reality-based thinking. That's harken-back-to-the-80s-thinking that ads that win awards should actually have an effect on real people, be paid for by real clients and run in real media. Stop that.

But really, I'm talking about something different.

I'm talking about awe.

Work that stops us. Actually stops us because we actually see it.

Work that rattles our rafters and upsets our complacency about what work looks like. Work that is odd. Different. Put-the-book-down work. Work that doesn't lead people to chatter about "craft" and lensing and cinematography. Work that takes your breath away.

Those are the sine qua non qualities of award-winning.

Gut-punching.

I'd like to see things on the air that stop me in my tracks. That render me breathless. Then jealous. Then wow. Work that makes me want things. Rethink things. Work that makes me work harder.

Put another way, I'd like to see things that don't need a video explaining the video I just saw.

I'd like to see real work.

That makes me gasp.

Not spreadsheets that make me sick.










Monday, June 10, 2024

Antisocial Security.

It happened just last Friday. Three days ago.

I finally reached the age where I can start collecting social security: 66 years and six months.



I've been paying into the system since 1962, when I was featured in two cereal commercials and had to join SAG/AFTRA to protect the incongruous winsome-ness of my blue eyes and platinum hair against non-union cuteness.

The hair is grey now and the eyes glaumy. And I know enough to delay collecting from social security for as long as I can--benefits increase eight-percent a year, and today, nothing pays eight-percent.

The point in all this, however, isn't that I'm old.

The point is how un-old I am.

Sure, I wake up with pains and go to sleep with even more. Sure, getting up from a chair I sound like I was recorded in Dolby™ SurroundSound in Creakaround™. Sure, I'm cranky, and on occasion I leave the living world in late afternoon and lay down to take a load off my feet for twenty minutes, but still.

Don't fuck with me.

At sixty-six-and-a-half I have more energy, more acuity and, more more than anyone else. More drive and ambition and combativeness than nearly anyone I know.

I work harder, longer, faster and smarter. And I've a bit of Bernard Baruch in me. 



Baruch famously--even in his 90s--sat on a park bench across from the White House in Washington, DC. He advised every democratic president from Franklin Roosevelt to John Kennedy. Kennedy would flash a signal across the park when he was ready to see Baruch. It was reported that Baruch was found studying Latin at 92, while sitting on his bench. "Because he finally had time."

No, I'm not studying Latin again, hic, haec, hoc, after a forty-year hiatus. I haven't the time. But despite my aforementioned aches and pains and grumps, my learning ability, my curiosity, my breadth of information and retention remain prodigious.

But that ain't the point, either.

The point is about the throwing-out of people because of some asinine (and comfortable) belief so many people hold about the a) disposability of people and b) the obsolescence of people.

Because those who have gamed the industry through awards mania, and pillaged the industry through greed have determined that "advertising must shape culture," the industry has excised anyone over 40 from its midsts. In short, the industry has forgotten entirely that advertising must exploit (if it's to be effective) simple, timeless, human truths. Timelessness, it's sad that I have to write this, does not blow with the wind or with the latest binary digital hype cycle. Timelessness, you might say, is timeless.

And timelessness is universal.

The industry seems to have convinced itself that "personalization..." "Roger! We have 20% savings just for you!" is somehow more appealing than telling Roger something he might want to know in a way that's actually startling and interesting to him. Addressing Roger by name is a cheap parlor trick like Uncle Sol pulling a quarter out of a kid's ear. Understanding that kid, based on humanity, empathy, history, experience and more is what communication is about.

Everyone I know in the industry who's over 50 is now either out of the industry, er, undustry, or making a go at freelancing in the fringes of the industry, or like me, running their own thing. And happier for it.

Not only is this expungement of brains illegal, wasteful, stupid and cruel, it actually runs against about 4.5 million years of human evolutionary precedent.

As Henry Gee, a paleontologist points out in his great book, above, humans thrived as a species because, nominally, we learned from each other and from elders. 

Now we've thrown out all the elders. Which runs against the tide of life of earth. 

We're so busy sitting on panels, reading inspirational platitudes on Linked In and awarding ourselves for drivel, we've forgotten to look at actual historical reality. We're as dumb as teenagers who think they invented sex. We forgot, and worse, actively forget, that there are those simple, timeless, universal human truths. And they're not the domain, solely, of 27-year-olds.

Gee writes.


Or as Noel Coward sang:


Go shape culture.
Do a case study video on it.
Wear a wool-cap in the summer.
Your time is coming.

That's a simple, timeless, human truth.


Friday, June 7, 2024

We Have the Meets.


Lately, as the malaprop spins, my Christmas tree has been lighting up like a switchboard, with calls coming into GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company like classified documents in a Mar-a-Lago toilet.

My father never actually said this, though he might have had he been sober, and I find myself saying to many of those who call, "As my father never said, 'you don't make any money saying 'no' to assignments.'"

That's all to say, unless someone presents themselves to GeorgeCo. as a humorless, demanding and impatient needledick, I'll usually try to find a way to make things work. 

What I've found along the way is fairly simple but no less profound. Somehow work begets work and nothing gets you more work than having too much work. I've been at a few "hot" agencies during my long holding-company-years, at that was true working for them, too. When you have too much work, you get more work. That usually works out. And you work out a way to do the work while getting more work.


Besides, there is a certain karma and in Robbie Blake's phrase, 'fearful symmetry' in the world. I've seen it over and over again, when you're fundamentally decent to people, good things eventually come to you, most often when you least expect it, and many times, regardless of their circuitousness, from those same people you went the extra mile for. 

For about 40 years, my wife has marveled at my extraordinary 'Kab Karma,' and my ability to find a parking space right in front like I'm a detective in a 1970s-era TV cop show. I can almost always get a cab--at rush-hour in the rain--and I can almost always get a space near the restaurant we're going to, far from the good ol' neighborhood hot-wirer-rascals. I believe it's because I've always talked to cab-drivers about their home countries or how their day's going or the music they're playing on their radio. And I always tip well. 

As they say in the bagel factory, what goes around comes around.

I met an old partner for a quick cuppa coffee this morning at New York's noisiest coffeeplace, a little dust-bunny of a dump underneath the Park Avenue overpass across from Grand Central called Pershing Square. 

As e.e. cummings might have writ, but dint,

we sang our didn't and danced our did
Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all,
we sowed our isn't and reaped our same
sun moon stars rain
Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars raim

In other words, we talked about jobs, kids, wives,
losses, and mostly
laughed our laughs and cried our sighs
and had our coffees,
phones besides.

Take my nose, please.
When N. asked how my business was going, I answered as II
often answer, like a Sphinx trained with a Borscht Belt sense of 
melancholic humor.

"N," I said. "I run a catering business. Someone needs a
platter for fifty, I'm on it. I bust my ass to get them a platter like
they've never had before. That platter is my bread and butter."

N wasn't aware quite yet I was speaking in metaphor.

"I also run a deli. If someone's in a rush and they just want a
turkey on a hard roll, light mustard and a sour, I've have it in five
minutes. Big or small, it doesn't pay to say no to an order.

"Today, I'm making sandwiches. I'll sell a lot of individual
sandwiches. I also have a couple of giant platters due in about
eleven days. I'll be doing those, too. Maybe not front burner, but
they're marinating."

In other words, you make your money.
You do your work
You try to slay
the inner-jerk

We left our leavings and officed our lives
We wayed our subs and subbed our ways
We breaded our earns and earned our bread,
Winter, summer, autumn, June,
We'll havanutter cuppa soon.

e.e. tannenbaum









Thursday, June 6, 2024

New. Old. And Vice-Versa.



I am very-close to a daughter-aged woman who I started working with almost a decade ago when we were both at Ogilvy. For anonymity's sake, I'll call her M. Though we haven't worked together since probably 2017, I'm thankful M and I remain friends.

When we first met, M was a young person in the big city. The "quotidian" cataclysms of life would frighten her. Not long ago in New York, someone crashed a cab into a clump of pedestrians. A bomb was put in a trash pail in a busy neighborhood. It injured dozens and scared thousands. People going through things like these the first time get scared shitless.

Just as teenagers often think they invented sex, each generation regards societal entropy as sure signs that the world  around them is crashing and crashing fast.

M came to me upset about the trash-pail bombing I described above. I asked her if she knew about Bernadeine Doern. The Weathermen. The FALN and Fraunces Tavern. The anarchist bombing of the Morgan Bank. And the IRA in New York blowing up more than one bomb a day for a year.





She looked at me like I was a conspiracy-theorist and had a worm growing out of my brain. Or a republican presidential aspirant. Or perspirant.

Thanks to M, I decided to start writing a non-fiction book I was planning to call it "Bombed in New York: A peculiar history of terrorists, extremists, anarchists, radicals, nihilists and militant bombings in the world’s greatest city." It was to be a history of terrorist bombings in Gotham from the olde Dutch days to present.  Here are a couple of excerpts of my unfinished tome. It's one of about 75 unfinished books I've started.








Right now I'm about to finish a book called "Pox Romana: The Plague That Shook the Roman World." The parallels to today's seeming collapse of the American Empire (which some have labelled Pax Americana) are eerie. 



At the end of the reign of Commodus around 192 AD, Rome was indeed a "shithole" country. It's written in "Pox," "The totality of the crisis—the epidemic, the grain shortage, the mob violence, the schemes and plots—may have washed over the emperor in one alarming moment." And "The emperor effectively flushed Rome’s dignity down the toilet..." And “the crimes committed by Commodus in a few years are worse than any in the whole of recorded history.” 

And in a summation that might be written after Trump KFCs himself to death, [His era] 
"represented a comprehensive emergency. The pandemic’s demographic, economic, social, political, and even spiritual components fertilized the sprouting stresses that preceded it. These crises then flowered in the 160s and 170s. Over time, the pandemic’s very real presence diffused into a looming ethereal threat, even as the disease itself died out. The world’s first observed pandemic—even if lacked the mortality of subsequent plagues—left a lasting impact on the societies that carried it for so many years. Disease deaths marred the Empire’s demography for generations, no doubt straining the tax base, suppressing military recruitment, and prolonging violence as the survivors fought over scarce resources. Economic inequality should have been reduced by drops in land prices, but the economic changes during and after the Antonine plague were complicated, to say the least. But one thing is clear: the enduring presence and pangs of the Antonine plague—both real and perceived—left an indelible mark on the course of Roman history..."

Believe it or not, M and other readers, this post is not gloomy. 

Despite all of the above, the western Roman Empire survived for another 250 years--roughly the length of all of American history. And the eastern Empire (Byzantium) lasted until 1453--another millennium.  

In short, horrid as life in the modern world seems, it takes a lot to kill the fungus that is life on earth.

The Roman historian Livy said in the early years we call AD, "we can survive neither our vices nor their remedies." But I don't think Livy was right. We seem as a species to take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.

So I'm inclined to agree with Faulkner. He wasn't exactly the life of the party, but he said on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature back in 1949 when the US and Soviets were aiming thousands of missiles at each other, the planet had just survived the death of between 50-80 million in World War II and pan-Asia was erupting in horrific, bloody wars throwing off centuries of brutal, dehumanizing colonial control, 

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help a man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Of course, things might not be so good for Faulkner today. He used gendered nouns and pronouns in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. 

Today, worse than a Pox might cut him down. 

He might be canceled.




Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Doing Lines.

The best line in all of American literature (you don't have to agree with me, but it's my blog) was written over a century ago by the great Ring Lardner in a short story called, "The Young Immigrants." It's just four words.

"Shut up," he explained.

The next best sentences come from a couple decades later and were typed in a manic, and probably drunk flurry by Dashiell Hammett in a short story called "The Continental Op." In these stories, Hammett was developing his hard-boiled Sam Spade-like character and he was getting good at it.

It read:


The particular words that get me in the above, besides all of them are there: "I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more,"...
I'll letcha in on a little secret, when I read--whether it's an email, a newspaper article, a website, a Linked In profile, almost anything, I try to count how many lies can be found in the words I read.
Maybe this aggressive cynicism is coming-of-age when Lyndon Johnson was President and when Richard Nixon followed him, with Spiro Agnew as VP. I was brought up looking for lies.
Everywhere.
I remember flying somewhere thirty years ago with my partner. We were flying to some godforsaken place in Kentucky where our client made cheap whiskey. The airline is defunct now, but was called US Air. Naturally, I guess, their slogan was "US Air begins with You."
My partner, on hearing that pablum said at the top of his lungs, "And ends in r." I never heard that slogan the same way again.
Years ago, I worked with Errol Morris who directed some commercials I had written for a client called Ameriprise. Morris insisted on calling them "Ameripants." And he came up with the apt slogan, "We've got our hands in your pockets."
In short, I think a lot of people read words--especially words used in ads--words meant to sell you stuff, and they read them with a certain degree of cynicism.
I think that's a good thing.
More important, I think it's a brief for writers and brands. You have to make your words so unassailable they can withstand the toughest truth checks.
Years ago I inherited an account that had been f'd upped by some cool creatives. Their tagline (which I quickly abandoned) was "It's for people." Duh to the Duh.
Like Hammett's Continental Op above, I can't find one word in that sentence that has meaning to me. I literally don't understand.
One of my least favorite brands in the world is Buick. They've tried to reintroduce, re-frame, re-vitalize the brand about 20 times in the last ten years. For many years, they made a shitty, ugly product which didn't help matters. They've done so many ham-handed commercials through the years as to scare the world off of ham altogether.
Now their cars are decent looking--though I don't know how well they run or what it's like trying to buy one. I can tell you there's not a soul between here and the Upper Lower North Southistan who will be persuaded by their current slogan: 'Exceptional by design.' Again, I have no idea what that li(n)e means.
Not a big point today.
Other than this: words are not merely graphic design. They're not just squiggles that fit somewhere near a logo. They're supposed to have meaning, import, and be memorable.
Oh, and if you can make them "for people," all the better.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

A Rally Via Sally.

One of the great life lessons I ever received I got twenty years ago from a woman I've met just once.

At the time I was the co-lead of the flagship office of a big, moribund Boston agency. Every Tuesday morning I would bring all the creatives together--about 150 in all. I'd usually talk about something that was happening in the agency, what we were pitching, new hires or whatever. Then I turn it over to people who had sold new work that they wanted to share.

This was all about raising the level of ambition of the creatives who worked at this place. To get them out of any complacency they might have fallen into. About twice a month, I'd try to bring in someone from the outside who I thought people could learn from.

Once, when Apple was opening a new store on Newbury Street, I brought in the architect who was designing the place. I thought who better to speak about user interface than the person who's been designing one that actually works in real life?



Another time I brought in Sally Hogshead

At the time, Sally was transitioning from advertising creative director to a speaker specializing in helping people become as fascinating (and confident in that fascination) as they can be. Sally was off-the-charts great. I'm not even sure she charged us to charge us up.

Before her talk, Sally and I sat together in my ballpark-sized office and talked as if we were old friends. I must have told her about what I was hoping she would bring to the agency. Or what I was hoping I would get out of her talk.

I didn't write down anything she said, but I remember it like I had carved it into marble.

"George," she said, "three things are important in a career. 

One: Your portfolio. The actually work you do. The way you think. The proof of your professional ability.

Two: Your reputation. What people say about you. How your name precedes you. What your name means to the world.

Three: Your network. Who you know. Who you meet. Who you touch, amuse, help, teach and learn from. 

No matter who you are, your life will be full of ups-and-downs. But if you keep these three things in fighting-trim, you'll be ok."

End quote.

As I enter my fifth year running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, I've been feeling a little folded, spindled and mutilated. To date, I've had my best year but, about six weeks ago, wrapping up an assignment, I realized I had nothing in the pipeline and nothing, even, over the proximate horizon.

Scary.

Sure, I know enough to know I have essentially a retainer with more blue chip accounts than maybe Needham Harper & Steers or Levine Huntley have. And if past is prologue, the phone will before long jingle with a call from one or a couple of those accounts. 

Phone calls equal revenue.

I like revenue.







But a certain barometer of my business, calls from people I don't know thanks to the ads I run on Linked In, was showing storm-signals. I get about half my business from those calls, maybe three inquiries a month, and I hadn't had one come into fruition for too long for me to be able to sleep at night.

Fear keeps shitty hours. And steals the covers.

Long walks along the Long Island Sound did nothing to calm my jittery nerves. Knowing I had $100,000 or more scheduled for payment from clients didn't help much either. It wasn't anyway, a question of money. It was a question of kicking ass. 

I like kicking ass. Kicking the ass of other creatives who want the same business I want. And mostly, kicking the ass of an industry that betrayed hundreds and hundreds of people like myself. I mean the people who made the non-advertising moguls at the top of the advertising business obscenely rich--who were then fired because, well, they could be.

It was cheaper that way.

Then, I got an email from a planning friend who met someone at a barbecue--someone who's the CMO of a nice-sized start-up. Then someone at a very prestigious magazine saw an ad of mine on LinkedIn and in under-a-month, we signed a contract. I got two days of day-rate from someone else--an unnamed agency. And four days ago I heard from someone I hadn't spoken to since 2015. She hooked me up with a company who just hired me for one of my 3-6-3s.

No matter what you do for a living, whether or not you were abused as a kid, or kicked in the head by a horse, or undone by this malefactor of great wealth or that, you can wake up one morning and find yourself trying to walk balanced on a long white chalkline of despair. And errant bit of equilibrium can send you ass over teakettle into a deep slough of despond if not an abyss. 

You must remember this, abyss is just abyss.

Sally's words and her one-two-three above won't keep you from that slough. Maybe nothing really can. As Neil Young once screeched, "rust never sleeps." Or, "everything that rises must recede." 

But fighting back, trying again, and that au-courant notion of resilience are founded on thinking like that which Sally imparted to me twenty years ago.

Wherever you are,
whatever you're doing,
whenever you want to,
Sally,
I owe you one.