Monday, April 15, 2024

An Open Letter to Every Automaker.

I love cars.

I used to love car advertising. Especially, work done at Carl Ally for Volvo, Fiat and Saab. At Scali McCabe Sloves for Volvo. Of course, VW at DDB. And especially at Ammirati & Puris for BMW. Oh, and Porsche, at various times at Chiat\Day or Fallon.

As much as there's an emotional side to buying a car, there's a rational side, too. These agencies knew both sides. How to speak to both. How to limbic and to logic.

But logic and rational has all but disappeared from advertising today. For a number of reasons.

One. We've had about thirty years of planner bullshit proclaiming decisions are emotionally-based rather than rationally-based. OK. I guess I'm an anomaly. If I'm going to spend hundreds on something, someone ought to give me some sort of permission to believe. 

I also happen to believe that a number of factual points together can build to an emotional connection. Here's a random VW ad. Read the copy. Maybe you'll get my point.

Two. We've had about thirty millennia of bullshit that people don't read. So we read that so often, we stopped writing. 

No one took the time to do any discovery or any verification, as I did for the past few moments. They just repeated "no one reads," because advertising is easier and cheaper to produce when it's dumber and commoditized.

Let's ignore the data below because, "no one reads."

$80 Billion in sales and over half-a-billion print books sold--yet "nobody reads."

Three. And most egregious. Agencies today have staffing protocols that make it impossible for people to learn about the products and services they're paid to advertising. Staffing in an agency today is "just-in-time." They've eliminated costly inventories of knowledge and expertise. When "availability is a capability," copy becomes generic.

Since the advent of practical electric vehicles from about ten years ago, automakers have been banging their drum on their own electrification forays.

In the eyes of automakers and their agencies, they only have to say "The new ____________. It's driving electrified."

That's Shakespearean in a way. The Bard wrote, "A rose is a rose is a rose." Madison Avenue writes, "an electric is an electric is an electric."

We've forgotten completely that our job is to differentiate. 

And to differentiate requires the time, intellect, empathy and skill to find out details and make them interesting and important to people. That's the thing about point One above. Emotions aren't ownable. Facts can be.

Like I said, I like cars. 

And the Wall Street Journal does a good job covering the multi-billion (or trillion) automobile industry. They just ran this article "The EV Battery of Your Dreams Is Coming." 

There's a lot of tech in the article. About solid metal materials. About silicon, not graphite. About layers of batteries and anodes. About the expansion and contraction of batteries. Finally, even, about the very shape of batteries and a particular configuration's ability to increase range and decrease charging time and cost.

In short: All batteries are not the same. And in the coming years it won't be electrification that's the point, it will be the type of electrification. 

Actually, this short paragraph from the Journal, is exactly the kind of writing the ad industry no longer thinks is needed. Because even as though the average cost of a new car is around $47,000 and the average household income is around $80,000, car buying, like everything else, is based on emotions, right?

"...But BMW recently announced that it will begin selling the first vehicle using the company’s new platform for EVs, which it calls “Neue Klasse,” in 2025. These vehicles will have a new kind of battery which will hold more than 20% more energy than the previous type, and charging speed and range will also improve by up to 30%..."

What Madison Avenue will do with information like this will be interesting to see. Will they make it important and thereby sell more? Or will they just repeat 'no one reads' and not do anything with it?

GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company has over its five years of life differentiated dozens of products. From a tech company that protects the food supply from pathogens by detecting disease up to 500 times faster than previous protocols, to a pizza company that makes healthier snacks through alternative grains.

My offer to the automakers in the coming battery wars is simple. If you want someone who can drive sales for you by making the shape of a battery interesting, important and "I've got to have that," I'm your protoplasm.

This blog is actually a good example of my skill. I have the same letters and keyboard as everyone else. Yet I've written nearly 2,000,000 words here and get about 350,000 readers a month. 

That's fantastic for a blog. It wouldn't be bad for an automaker.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday Fun-Time.

There was a time when agencies and even some creative people bought books.

I mean real, actual books. Things you could stub your toe on. Not just ones and zeroes.

I still do.

At the bottom of it all, I'm afraid like most decent creative people, of having an assignment, project, pitch or major undertaking and coming up like an empty fishhook, having caught nothing.

Not even a skein of ratty seaweed or a Coney Island whitefish.

If you'd like to come up to my office in Connecticut, you're welcome, assuming you don't stay too long and you have good manners and don't dirty the guest towels.

You can visit my books.

My office is also my library. Most important my restorative niche. Where, like Wordsworth, I go when the "World is to much with us."  Which is practically always.

My "surround-sound" bookshelves are still only half occupied, I haven't fully transported my things from my city apartment. But in Connecticut, I still have a thousand good books. Many of them picture books. 

I like picture books. Particularly those published by Taschen, like the one I took pages from below. I spend a lot on books. But if I get one smile per book, or one idea per one-hundred books, they've more than paid for themselves.

We live in a world of "in-flight announcements." Where you're ordered about with little kindness often at the top of some petty bureaucrat's voice. Books give me something more.


I know I am lugubrious by nature. And in my posts I can lay on the sturm und drang in such a way as to make Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung look like "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies. 

Consider today's post an apologia. 

I don't mean to be a dour son a bitch. I was born this way. And I'm doing pretty good for a poor boy who had thirty stitches in his his face by the time he was four. 
Self-portrait in pixels.

And btw, don't be a stranger. Tell me in the comments which album cover below is your favorite. You can be deep-dish about it and analyze it like a graphic designer, or you can just say, "I like the colors." Both are good.

For me, it's "Anatomy of a Murder." The design is Saul Bass, the music is Ellington. And the Otto Preminger movie has Lee Remick in tight pants. As they say, PC or not, hubba hubba.

BTW, if you give a damn, you can buy the book below for $18.34 plus $3.99 for shipping if you click here. By my calculations, that's half of a week's worth of Starbucks, half your weekly subway fare and probably less than five-percent of your monthly cable bill.

Boo shop be bop.


Thursday, April 11, 2024

Scout. Pout. Out.

A friend just wrote to me through some chat mechanism. Messenger, or Slack, or Teams, or Goose, or Restraining Order. 

It doesn't much matter which one.

They're all the same and everyone hates them all because they all suck.

She said to me, "How do you find so many funny things online?"

I answered as I've been answering since my teen years, when they tested my vision and found I had an extra-ordinary visual field. Like off the charts.

I've grown used to questions like these over the last 50 or so years.

"I have a wide field-of-vision," I answered. "I see things other people don't."

A good skill to cultivate if you're in the advertising business. Or any other business for that matter.

Last night, about an hour after I turned off the incandescence, I was visited by Dame Insomnia. She escorted me to the website of the Library of Congress, where I found 64 typewritten scouting reports by the baseball man, Branch Rickey. 

Rickey was a front office man--a General Manager and scout--most-famous for having the courage to buck the racism of Amerika and baseball and hire Jackie Robinson to play for the Dodgers of Brooklyn. He might be the Bill Bernbach of the Baseball Industry, or the Henry Ford, or Steve Wozniak.

The first scouting report I read was the second-longest. It was of the Hall of Famer, Don Drysdale when he was just 17.

There's some dated language in many of the reports. Black players are often referred to as "boys." Not our way today, but reflective of the tenor of the times, and you can't, rightfully, judge one era by the standards of another. It just ain't right. I'd bet by 2400 AD, people or AI systems--whichever is supreme--will look back at dog owners as cruel and unusual. 

At two in the morning, I read virtually all of Rickey's scouting reports that the Library of Congress had made available. You can find them all here.

What got me going about all this, of course, is what usually gets me going. Advertising.

Reading these reports got me thinking of how I was evaluated and rated when I was a boy in the business. I wondered what Marshall Karp, my first ECD in the business, said about me in my early scouting reports. Or Len Sirowitz. Or Ed Butler. Or Mike Tesch. Or Steve Hayden. Or Chris Wall. Or Steve Simpson. Or Lee Weiss. Or, even, Errol Morris and Joe Pytka.

I read not too long ago this book, about women in the CIA. Of course the CIA has a formal review process and keeps extensive records. But the assessments--the scouting reports--that really mattered were the ones traded in hallways and lunch rooms and "dead drops." 

Not that many months ago, I spent a nice chunk of change to get some career counseling from Cindy Gallup. I wanted to make sure my day-rate was high enough. I have friends who coach professionally, but I wanted to talk to someone I knew only slightly. 

Cindy said to me, "George, when two people are talking and only one of them knows you, what does that person say about you? What do you want them to say? That's your unique selling proposition."

I wonder if there's anyone left in the industry who sees it as rough, shiv-laded, and whale-shippy as I do. You keep nothing aboard a whale ship except that which makes the owners of the ship--the shareholders--money. I guarantee you the Pequod had no rock-climbing wall for crew recreation.

If you're still in the business, whether you're a freelancer, running your own thing, or one of the few people still with that relic of a demarcation--an FTE--you ought to think, no matter what your age, how your scouting report reads. Many of them, even of players who eventually went onto the Hall of Fame, are harsh. 

You'd want it to read like this:

Or this:

Not this. 

And what does your scouting report say?

By the way, my scouting report (a reproduction.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Silenced. By Fear of Power.


I'm getting angry.

Angrier than usual.

Which is going some.

I'm angrier not only because of the destruction of the industry by "malefactors of great wealth" but also because everyone sees it but, to my ego-centric eyes, I'm the only one talking about it.

I just ran across an article in Monday's "Wall Street Journal." Their paywall is strict, their politics are retrograde and their logic is nefarious. But they provide another point of view and an outstanding book section, and the world's best writer on cars, so I subscribe.

The headline above sucks. In so many ways. Not the least of which in saying that groups tried to ban 4,240 titles last year, we were given no context.

I read a bit further and saw this graph:

Then, I got to these two adjacent paragraphs:

So, we're attempting to ban more than ten-times the books than ever before. 

I believe this trend, this rush to intolerance, is related to my text dialogue above. And is yet another impetus of my burgeoning anger.

What's happening here, in our self-annointed era where 'transparency' is heralded, is a folding-in of freedom of expression and free-speech. My well-tuned ears are philologically-minded. They notice things I've learned from George Orwell. As a "culture," we are using fewer words. Our ability to express and understand complicated thoughts is diminishing. We no longer have the words. (By way of comparison, Shakespeare knew twice as many words as a modern human.)😢

I also notice things I learned from Viktor Klemperer, a diarist, who chronicled his life as a Jew living in captivity alongside the Nazis and his post-war life living as a captive under the Soviet-East German police state in Dresden, Germany. His book "The Language of the Third Reich" taught me more than I learned from the 15 literature classes I took during my college years. 

If reading ain't your thing no more, you can watch Stan Neumann's documentary on Klemperer, "Language Does Not Lie."  If viewing something serious ain't your thing no more, you can think about the four words in the title. Unless, thinking ain't your thing no more.

The point in all my anger brings me back to George Orwell and another small set of words you might think about if being human is still your thing.

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”   
There's some debate on the provenance of that sentence. No real debate on its meaning and importance. 

Bad things are happening in our world, but more specific to this dopey and in consequential blog, our industry. Money and livelihoods are being stolen by a few dozen men from a few thousand people. They're like cheaters when you're playing Monopoly. You're playing a game. They're playing to kill. They cheat to get all the money and all the properties.

They've taken it from you. 

They'll leave you living on Social Security. Which they will then attempt to take from you.

Stay silent, my friends.

You have nothing to lose but your everything.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

There's Something Happening Here.

What it is, ain't exactly clear.

And that lack of clear-ness isn't fine.
Especially since it's by absolute design.


I spent the first 55 years of my 66 years on our dying pale blue dot hearing the word "transparency" only in reference to windows and cellophane. 

Now I hear it all the time. 

It's about the highest praise a company, a charlatan or a politician can say about themselves. My rule of sagacious thumb says the more a person or a social organization or an enterprise uses the word transparency, the more likely it is that they're being deceptive--either by omission or commission, or most usually both.

If you're honest, you don't have to use clichés like transparent.

And if you're honest, you don't have to spend public relations dollars proclaiming your honesty. And if you're honest, you have a set of measures--measures that don't blow with the wind, that stay the same year after year--by which your honesty can be judged and evaluated.

If these measures are true, quantifiable and invariable, they should speak to your honesty.

For instance, take Volkswagen and their diesel deception. If they had a measure that said "this much fuel at this speed gives off this many parts per million," and this calculus is bona fide and verified, their lying would not have happened. Same with Boeing. This is how we build a plane. These are the safety checks. This is what we do, have always done and how we measure it, their best-selling plane would not be like a 19th Century mine disaster. A cave-in waiting to happen.

Instead, we prevaricate. Re-pre-varicate. And Repeat-varicate. We're the lies and the lying liars who lie there.

No longer does the ad industry, for instance, demand and publish verification of the ad industry or individual agencies. 

Back when I was young, various publications which reported on the industry would rank various agencies by billings or revenue.
Their charts looked something like this:

Often, you could go through the trades and even find out how many employees an agency had.

All that data has vaporized now.

And though we're told repeatedly how vital data is to marketing, no one ever remarks on how vital it is to honesty.

I keep banging a drum that over the last seven years--since 2017--WPP (which was then the biggest of the holding companies) employed over 200,000 people. Today, they employ fewer than 105,000. In other words, they're 45-percent smaller than they were a short while ago. 

Hardly an endorsement of a "creative transformation company."

Sundry agencies of the year, I believe, over the last few years have actually won that (bogus) award while hemorrhaging people, clients and revenue. My understanding is that DDB, at least in New York, is perilously close to being a non-entity. They've gone through CCOs and CEOs like Marjorie Taylor-Greene goes through Tide Pods on Halloween. 

I don't know how many people they employ, what accounts they have, what clients they work for or what real work they produce. I'd bet they're New York office is smaller than that of GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company. But...

An industry without honesty is like a skyscraper without foundation or a solid superstructure.

The industry heralds awards and success, yet when you turn on the TV 91-percent of all commercials seem to be shot non-union on an iPhone and 98-percent of them are baffling or insulting.

That's what it takes to succeed these days.

Our entire industry these days reminds me of this dialogue by Dashiell Hammett in The Maltese Falcon as directed by John Huston.