Friday, June 28, 2024

Lies. And Consequences.

There's a great serendipity that often comes from having a messy desk, or more accurately in 2024, a messy desktop.

I am an inveterate saver of things I like. I usually take a screenshot and leave that screenshot on my desktop. After a month or so, I roll up my sleeves and plough through all the little-liked-things I've compiled. I put a title--a memory jog--on them and file them away in a giant folder I call "Good Things."

On occasion as I file these things away, two or more bump up against each other, fire a synapse, and all at once, I have a genuine thought, or a blogpost, whichever comes first.

If you start with Bill Bernbach, as we all should (though I'd imagine 97-percent of those in attendance at Cannes would have no idea who he is--especially the 'executives' and chieftains in attendance--and I'm sure Bernbach himself would have hated about 97-percent of the work) you start with the words above.

Maybe, re Bernbach, what we should be thinking about isn't him as advertising person but him as something more macro. A person who's developed a philosophy, really, on how to get through to people. How to communicate, touch and make something memorable. These are things that don't change with the prevailing winds. They remain through time.

The proper study of mankind is man, and all that Alexander Pope stuff.

But back to cleaning my desktop. 

Just moments ago, I found this little bit of wisdom. As a lover of the Classics, this had especial appeal to me. It seems an infrastructure of understanding and of empathy. It seems, in a way, a nod to Carl Ally's famous maxim: "Advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted."

Maybe the Ally-ism above is too complicated by half. Maybe as an industry we've gone so wrong, we should simplify our reminder to this: Advertising must care for people.

Just moments after these ruminations, still cleaning my desktop, I bumped into this by economist Peter Drucker. Somehow, and I don't know exactly how, it seemed like the perfect accompaniment to the Hollis quotation above; the left bookend to the Greek's right bookend.

Maybe where it all comes together for me is the combo platter of unimagined consequences and the great efficiency we enable in doing things we shouldn't be doing at all.

My old man eyes see an industry that has forgotten our purpose. To tell the truth in ways that help people decide to buy or, more moderately, to consider buying. 

We've forgotten to love our neighbors. We've forgotten the pain most people are in. Their salaries are low, their expenses are high, and they're tired of being told how smiley and wonderful the world is. In the america of Madison Avenue, no one has a mortgage, or waits on line, or gets a cold hamburger or feels folded, spindled and mutilated by an ISP, a telco, an airline or a political candidate.

We've forgotten or chosen to ignore the reality of the world. Instead, every commercial is a pharma spot--a miracle in a pill and no one hears the 37-seconds of horrific side-effects. Not just pharma spots are promising chemical miracles. There's not been a car commercial shot--maybe ever--that alludes to real road-conditions or anything other than taking blond children to soccer practice.

The coke recycling grand prix is a good example of all this tommyrot. You can't walk 100 yards in america without tripping over polluting-forever coke detritus. Yet coke and its agency have the brass to pretend their pangloss on environmental destruction is worthy of a trophy.

If Newton's Third Law is right--for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction--consequences are in the very fiber of life on earth. Yet somehow we are all pretending we live in a world where there are none.

I know.

Heady for a blog.

There will be hell to pay for that.

Thursday, June 27, 2024


More than a decade ago while working at Ogilvy on IBM Watson, I wrote an advertising campaign that never made it off of my computer.

The campaign could be summed up in four words: "In Praise of Hard." It was about the hard-work involved in gaining real advantages from Artificial Intelligence. Or, for that matter, any technology.

The way AI was being sold, the way everything new is always sold, is that it's going to make life so easy, all you have to do is flick a switch and voila: the answer. All at about 1/100th of the cost and the time.

Humans--back then I knew a few--have a natural propensity to fall for "something for nothing-isms." You can find examples of miracles, for instance, in every foundational text from Gilgamesh, to the Torah, to the Iliad and Odyssey and more. You can find more examples today just by turning on the TV. You'll see commercial after commercial that promises the world, with absolutely no side-effects and little cost.

We all really wish alchemy, turning base metal into gold, was real.

What was happening in the world of AI was that people thought they could ask it a question--what's the next big fashion trend--and get an answer. They didn't realize the amount of work that had to be done to allow a computer to derive an answer. Data has to be organized and fed into the machine. You can't just stick it alongside the Encyclopedia Brittanica and hope for the best. 

What's more, most sources of data are so sullied by bias and sloppy accounting as to be veritably invalid. Inconvenient truths are conveniently wiped out. The most popular stories, like executives at Disney, prefer happy endings. They don't even like having bad guys to overcome.

Just yesterday in the social media world an absolutely horrific AI-created spot for Toys R Us went viral. It's badness was so bad I could barely make it past the first clichéd piano note.

Then, what made matters worse, was people critiquing the spot but praising its production values. Its 'how far AI has come.' They normalized crap. 

I keep seeing commentary like this. People saying "wow, look how real this image AI made is--it's just amazing, and so fast and cheap." In fact, half my Facebook feed (I'm on Facebook about 30 minutes/month) is AI generated prostitutes who are gorgeous yet lonely. Maybe because they're nothing but pixels.

There are many historians, or just people with a sense of history, who trace the decline of America to the efforts of the Lyndon Johnson administration to simultaneously pay for both social-welfare programs and the massively-expensive Vietnam war. All without demanding sacrifices from American citizens.

That's something-for-nothing-ism and its rot has rotted our country. 

We could get cheaper goods from China without paying the cost of displacing jobs in America. We could cut back on roads, healthcare and education without paying the cost of a decaying state. We could get get get without working or paying.

For most of human life on the planet we dumped forever chemicals into our environment, or 200 billion plastic bottles a year and we pretend it's all ok.

To be all-george about this, I'd say that something-for-nothing-isms have destroyed what used to be the ad industry. Remember, digital advertising was founded on the notion that you could reach people at an incredibly low cost and with no waste. And it would all be so great, they'd talk about your work and spread it for you. Remember?

What's more, targeting would be so accurate and timing so adroit (the right message to the right person at the right time) relevance would obviate the need for creativity. Brands could "dull their way" into peoples' hearts.

Just when I want a Snickers, I'd get a coupon for one.

Nearly everyday I see someone extolling the virtues of AI. Again, its speed and its gee whiz magic. "Wow, it made a duck in a chef's hat on a yacht making a cherry pie! That's fantastic."

No one thinks about what consumers think. They prefer to think the purported gee-whiz-ness of the ones and zeroes will carry the day and get people to notice. "Look how realistic it looks, and so fast and cheap."

I'll go out on a limb here.

The same things that made stories interesting, shareable, illuminating and mnemonic in 3000 BC are the same things that will work today.

Apocryphal or not, this six-word story is better than anything any AI system as ever regurgitated. 

Baby shoes. For sale. Never worn.

When Homer was singing his tunes no one asked, "was that writ on the latest technology, papyrus? Or was it scratched on a clay tablet?" No one care because the way we make something doesn't matter. The radio commercials I recorded digitally were not inherently better or more interesting than the ones I recorded on magnetic tape. Shooting on pixels is inherently no better than shooting on film.

What we're supposed to be is interesting, valuable, informative and memorable.

That takes work.

No machine can do it.

And never will.

Yes, they can make a car crash or an alien fly through the air, but to make something interesting to humans takes an understanding of what's interesting to humans. I think that's a job for humans.

I'm not sure you can program humanity into a machine. 

I think that I shall never see,
A bot that acts with empathy.
It's a test most humans fail to pass,
So I think your brand's a bloody ass.

Below is how humans judge work. It doesn't matter who makes it or how. It matters how it makes you feel.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024


If in my entire life of playing ball, from the sewer-grate games on the asphalt in front of my parent's tilted little house in Yonkers, abutting the then-benighted borough of the Bronx, to the dazzle of lights under the Mexico City sky while playing the perennial champions of the Mexican Baseball League, Diablos Rojos del Mexico, if during all those years, and all those "let's play two" long days and nights, if I hit 10,000 balls into the outfield, 9,990 were sent between the left field foul line and left center field.

In fact, I can probably remember every single time I hit a ball to the opposite field. 

Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest hitter of them all, had the same propensity. And for Williams, American League teams developed a shift, stacking the right side of the field with five fielders, maybe six, rather than the usual three. 

No teams shifted for me, which reminds me of a story of Jimmy Piersall jawboning with catcher Yogi Berra after Whitey Ford had beaned a few players who in his wily mind needed beaning. 

Piersall, it's told said to Berra who was catching, "If Ford throws at me I'll beat his head in with my bat." Berra, unflappable and wise answered perfectly. "We don't bean .220 hitters." Nor do they shift for them.

In any event, one afternoon we were playing someone somewhere and we had two men on. I was coming up and Hector called me over from the on-deck circle. 

"Just hit one to right," Jorge, the old man directed. "One to right will bring two men in if I have them running on the pitch." 

In the batter's box I moved my back foot away from the plate and my lead foot in. I had shifted myself as far as possible, and waited for something I could put wood on. Preferably something out over the plate or outside. No one noticed my stance (we don't notice .220 hitters) and before long, I hit a bloop to shallow right field. It was too deep for the second baseman and too short for the right fielder. With the runners running, they scored and with my walk off blooper, we won the game. Maybe 6-5, something like that.

Right now, I'm reading a long military history book called "Endgame 1944. How Stalin Won the War." The war Dimbleby is talking about Stalin winning, is not the war against Hitler, but the war within the war, against Roosevelt and Churchill--the West--for the post-war domination of Europe. By the way, it's a war we're still fighting today. (Ukraine.)

The thing that's struck me about the book is the over-confidence of the German generals even as they're being out-thought, out-materiel-ed and out-manned by the Soviets. The Germans bolstered their defenses where they, the Germans, would attack, if the Germans were the Russians. The Russians attacked instead where the Germans wouldn't think they'd attack. 

This is the essential idea, crossing up your opponent. The Soviets called it maskirovka. It's essentially feinting. Showing one thing and doing another. The ol' double cross. Hitting to the opposite field. Out-thinking, not out-spending.

There's not much advertising point in all this, except the most basic strategic point of all. 

Do something unexpected.

Or, like Daffy, get your head blown off.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Willie Mays, The Say Hey Metaphor.

This is not about Willie Mays, really, though it involves Willie Mays.

It's about people who have special gifts based on experience, skill and vision. There's a French term that's often used in military science called Coup d' œil. Don't ask me to pronounce it, I can't.

It means the ability to understand a situation in the blink of an eye. Realtors have it--good ones, anyway. They can come into your apartment, tell you to move a vase or a lamp or an arm chair, and suddenly your $1.2 million place becomes a $1.3 million place that sells in four days.

Once I shot a commercial with Joe Pytka. It was an interview with Ridley Scott. Scott began by saying he's shot 2000 commercials. (That's 50 a year for 40 years.) He said he comes onto location and he immediately knows where the lighting goes. He sizes things up. Malcolm Gladwell talked about it in his book, "Blink." 

Experts from museums around the world verified the authenticity of a 3,000-year-old Kouros. The Getty Museum wanted one more bit of testimony before making the purchase. They flew in an expert who in a second said the Kouros was fake. He knew in a blink. 

That's coup d' œil.

In the agency non-business, or the non-serious agency business, 99% of the people who have coup d' œil have been shit-canned, largely because they also have white d' hair. I know a lot of such people--their coup d' œil is uncanny. My friend Rob Schwartz, former CCO and CEO of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York told me Lee Clow said to him once, "Oh, you have that Steve Hayden thing.  You can see how all of this plays out." Something like that. (Rob, you can edit me.)

Here's how former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent described Willie Mays' coup d' œil.

"Late in the game an A’s hitter sent an arcing foul ball in our direction. I sat still, watching the ball in flight. I never even glanced at the field, failing to consider that a fielder might try to make a play.

"Fans do what I did. But players are different and Willie was a Hall of Famer. He immediately understood that Giants first baseman Will Clark was headed our way. Mr. Clark arrived suddenly and crashed into my lap with the ball in his glove. It was then that Willie showed why he was different.

"As Mr. Clark landed on me, Willie reached out and grabbed Mr. Clark’s legs to keep his spiked cleats from cutting us both. While I was tracking the ball, Willie was tracking the danger. He helped Mr. Clark get on his feet and turned him back toward the field.

"Willie had been thinking ahead. He fully anticipated the crash and executed a deft intervention. Once I saw what he had done, I realized what his talent had given him. I told him I was beyond grateful for his protection—and for the up-close demonstration of his unique ability to anticipate what was about to happen in the course of a ball taking flight.

"Willie looked down while we mortals looked up. He knew when to take his eye off the ball. The rest of us reacted while Willie was thinking ahead. He was simply different and his kind is rare indeed."

We work in a non-serious business now. We spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars awarding ourselves with awards we purchase at a time when our purchase with clients and consumers withers and dies. We celebrate work that never runs while the work that does run is more and more offensive and ugly and ineffective and insulting. 

To paraphrase Churchill's praise of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, "Never have so few done so little of consequence and applauded themselves for it so mightily." 

We've fired the Willies.

And promoted the sillies.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Dirt. And Hurt.

About 35 years ago, I worked at Ally & Gargano for a creative director called Ed Butler. Ed was widely-considered one of the best writers in the ad business. Because he had had a severe problem with alcohol, he had suffered a series of career set-backs but now he was sober and he had hired me.

Just two from Ed.

Even the story of why Ed hired me illuminates his character. I had mistakenly put a marker-comp in my book. An ad I did for the New York Police Department who were running an internal campaign on suicide prevention. I had forgotten I had left the ad in a sleeve in my book--an ad the NYPD never bought.

But Ed found it. And hired me because of it. The headline read, "Last year, ten New York City cops were shot to death. Seven did it themselves." 

The account I worked on with Ed was a retail account, and I pretty much had to write an ad a week. That meant that once a week, I'd have to write a 100 or so words of body copy, often on a complex financial product, and get it approved by Ed. 

In those days, getting approval didn't involve pinging someone via slack, sending them three emails, or sending them an IM. You usually knew when someone arrived at work or came back from lunch and you mustered up your courage and cornered them then. I was young at the time and Ed was legendary and 30 years older than I. The whole approval process was intimidating.

One day, I showed Ed a piece of body copy.

"You wrote quicker, I'd say faster. But it's your decision." 

He read some more, "Oh," he said, "You're a 'what's more' guy. I like that. Half the battle is writing a list and making it feel like it's not a list."

Then Ed looked at me with his blues. 

"You know how to write. You don't have to show me your copy anymore. You can if you want to, if you need my help. But you don't need to."

Actually, working with Chris Wall and Steve Hayden was much the same way. They might have a nip and tuck here or there, but for the most part, they were hands off. Maybe they'd read things just to get the little jokes I'd regularly slip into my copy just to see if anyone noticed. Once on something I was writing for Chris, I wrote a sentence, "This makes the Crab Nebula look like small potatoes." After he saw that, my hand was essentially stamped.

One thing I've noticed through the years: the more confident and competent the boss, the fewer rounds of revisions you're put through.

Since I started GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, many of my agency friends ask me how I have the time to handle all the business I handle in addition to staying on top of my social feeds--which get me more business. 

I almost always say, "If you were going to draw a pie chart of your days at Ogilvy, I'd bet 45% is meetings, 25% is wondering why you weren't invited to a meeting, 20% is dealing with 17-rounds of changes on a tweet, 5% is dealing with the time-sheet po-po. That leaves only 5% of your agency life for actual work. (If you believe as I do that meetings hardly count as work.)

When you work on your own, 78% of your time is actual work. 12% of your time is pantomiming to your spouse "I'm on a call," and 10% of your time is chasing clients who think Net120 is ethical. In other words, working on your own it's liberatingly productive.

Even though it's 271-degrees out, I went out for a three-mile walk just after lunch today. I started thinking about this agency vs. self dichotomy. Here's what I got to.

If my job was digging holes--say ten a day, and each hole was made up of 20 shovels-full of dirt, at an agency I'd have to get approval after each shovel was filled. 

I might be told I had too much dirt on a shovel, or not enough. I might be told I threw the dirt into the wrong pile. I might be told I wasn't scoped to dig that hole. Or I should move to another hole because my hole-supervisor noticed a rock in my hole and we had rock-removal people who specialized in this and who billed at a higher hourly rate and we had to bring them in--even if I could do it just fine.

The critiques of my digging wouldn't end there. Someone might say my down-stroke wasn't vertical enough. Or deep enough. Or it was too deep. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Today, all I do is dig holes. I've dug a lot in my life and been making a living at it for parts of five decades, approaching six. I'd wager not that many people are more skilled than I at digging.

So, I dig. With muscle, authority and confidence. Those characteristics are usually synonymous with quality, efficiency and productivity.

That's me.

Dishing the dirt.

Friday, June 21, 2024


Most of my clients do not give me a brief.

If they give me anything typewritten at all, it's a manuscript of fear, things they have to do, and panic brought to a simmer over the low heat of time-pressure and garnished with mandatories that are often contradictory and draconian.

I read brief but all but ignore it. Not in a mean or haughty way. But I listen to clients when we speak about what they need when they call me. I find that more helpful. 

And I ask them a lot of questions. 

Often they're so consumed with fear that what I get as a briefing is a swirl not an approach.

I guess that's why they pay me.

Years ago when I was working for Steve Simpson at Ogilvy, I wrote a short story for a pitch. It was, if you can believe it, a children's book on a technology called Robotic Process Automation.

This was heavy stuff.

I turned it human and funny. And I did it quickly.

Steve has a very intense, tiny hand-writing. He marked up my manuscript like a prisoner sneaking messages to the outside world. He made every scrap of paper count and he wrote his comments in about four-point type.

I knew what I wrote was relatively unassailable. Not only was the idea fairly good, I wrote it very well. I went through all of Steve's comments and "yepped" them. 

Yep, that makes sense. Yep, that makes sense.

But I got to one and I was floored. He made the thing immediately better and funnier. 

I ran down to his office.

"How did you do that," I threatened. "You make it so much better in one sentence?"

"That's what editors do," he answered, hardly meeting my blues with his.

"You did all the work, I just had the perspective."

Of course. 

That's what we do in advertising that clients can't do.

It's what AI will never do. Can never do. Can't.

It's judgment.

One of the issues with AI and the data on which it's based, like the data upon which CRM is based or the surveys companies are constantly besieging us with, is that we think they allow us to paint an accurate portrait of a person because we have so much data. That's about the wrongest thing in all of marketing and has been since marketing began.

No matter how much data you have predictability is unpredictable. Predictability is unpredictable.

This isn't going to be exactly accurate, but you'll get my drift. Think of how different a human is from a pig. Yet from what I've heard, we share about 98.1-percent of our DNA with pigs. If merely 1.9-percent of DNA is what makes us so different from a wallowing pig, think of all the data we represent. We are made of complexity that is unfathomable. 

I've read that the human brain has about six-trillion connections and synapses. That's far more firings than we can ever codify.

We also have memories that have such a layered complexity that they defy machine or even quantum replication. You can be walking down the street, for instance, and smell tar being poured by a road-crew. It's a common enough smell, especially during an election year when politicians pave roads to win votes.

That smell for me brings me back to a hot summer day when I was four in the Bronx sitting on a green vinyl seat in a school bus on the way to the zoo, in traffic, as burly men fix a broken road. I have a brown paper bag in my lap and a jelly sandwich on Arnold white bread from my mother. It's been in the summer heat and wrapped in cellophane and the jelly has soaked into the bread. Accompanied by a six-ounce glass bottle of warm Welch's grape juice, it is the most delicious thing I will ever eat.

At the zoo, I'm given a nickel for a machine that dispenses pellets of brown deer feed. A deer eats it out of my hand, his whiskers like an old man's.

On the way home the bus driver has the radio on. The announcer says it's "83 double you a b c degrees" and then I hear a commercial for Hoffmann's soda and think of my Welch's grape juice. I still hear the song. "The prettiest girl/I ever saw/ Was drinking Hoffmann's/ Through a straw./ The prettiest girl/I ever saw/ Was drinking Hoffmann's/ Through a straw."

That's our job, in a way. 

To take all those nutty inchoate words and turn them into something that appeals, persuades, impacts.

Machines can cut grass.

Humans can be Breughel.

Elder or Younger, it doesn't matter.

Though Elder is more likely to get fired.

He's cranky.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

"I Do."

One Saturday night many many years ago, I went to a wedding of an account person I was friendly with who was getting married to another account person she was friendly with.

We were out in Brooklyn somewhere and sitting at our table as we watched our friends tie the knot, jump over the broom, enter nuptial bliss--or nuptial blister--whichever comes first.

There were about eight of us at the table at which I was sitting and I recognized the guy sitting across from me. He was a very prominent creative having risen very high up at BBDO and then after stops at some other giant agencies (BBDO was a giant agency once) opened his own place.

He was a big name in the business, famous for very funny spots and famous for winning awards.

I'm not sure what he's doing now or even if he is doing. That's not the point.

I introduced myself.

"Hi, _________. It's nice to meet you. I'm my name here. I also work in advertising."

"What do you do," __________ asked. He seemed, for a moment to actually give a shit.

I was at Ogilvy on IBM at the time and said something like, "I help run IBM for Ogilvy. I take all that shit no one understands and I make it understandable."

__________ looked at me for a moment. I think he might have closed his eyes, then he opened them and said to me, "Oh, you do real advertising."

What struck me that evening is the stratification of the advertising business. If the industry is comprised of say, 200,000 people, probably 2,000 win 97-percent of the awards. The same 2,000 who are posting from Cannes right now, drinking Rosé in bare feet and feting work that I've never seen except on LinkedIn, agencyspy and the last remaining trade journals, which are really nothing more than press-releases bought and paid for giant agencies.

About five years ago I was asked to go to Cannes. Actually various Ogilvy "Cs" put a decent amount of pressure on me to go. I got out of it by saying "I'd look shitty in pink linen shorts." I left the room and they left me alone after that. 

Essentially, that's how I also got out of doing pharma work. I was asked to once by a C with no small amount of pressure. I said to him, "Hi, I'm Joan Lunden for anal leakage." He said, we'll find someone else, and left me alone after that.

When I was a boy, my older brother, Fred was an all-county golfer--all country in Westchester, NY. That's like being all county basketball from the southside of Chicago. Westchester was a golf Mecca.

Fred has a work ethic that makes me look like a slacker. To get his handicap into the low single-digits, Fred practiced all the time, mostly his short game and especially his putting. Once he said to me, "you drive for show and you putt for dough."

Meaning in golf, it's the details that separate the winners from the also-rans. On the putting green, a ten-foot putt means more than a 330-yard drive. 

There are probably thousands of golfers who can get on the green in two. But only a few dozen who consistently sink long putts.

You drive for show and you putt for dough.

About 50 years ago, I read a book by Malcolm Cowley. I don't remember anything about it but the title. It's the writer's version of the golfer's money shot, above.

The title was, "And I worked at the writer's trade."

When I think about the advertising business today, I also think about the business I grew up in. There was a time, this will be hard for many to fathom, that advertising agencies had beautiful office spaces and paid good salaries. What's more, they were located on Madison Avenue, Park Avenue, Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue. Back in the 1980s, I think Ogilvy was on Fifth Avenue.

In other words, ad agencies were sited within spitting distance of the companies they worked for. They were near the very center of the world's most-prominent companies. Agency CEOs had a pick-up- the-phone-relationship with Client CEOs. And agencies were well-paid for the work they did--they didn't charge like vendors, nor were they treated like vendors. 

I remember when a boss liked an ad I wrote but the client wouldn't buy it. My boss thought it would win gold. Hall-of-Famer, Amil Gargano agreed and called the client's CEO to sell the spot. He suggested I make one copy change--that would allay the client's issues. The client bought the ad.

Not too many months ago, I got a phone call from Steve Hayden, my advertising mentor and the closest person to a father I ever had. Steve had given GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company a client and he asked how it was going with that client.

"I think it's going pretty well," I answered. "He just called me on Saturday. A friend of his died and he needed help writing his eulogy."

"I'd say that's going pretty well," Steve said.

Somehow I think too much of our business has become too much about our own awards and our own aggrandizement. No, I don't relish writing eulogies for clients, but when you run your own agency and you're lucky enough to work primarily with CEOs or at the least CMOs, your job isn't a flashy one. Or it's not all flash, anyway.

It's not merely the spot or the stunt--real or phonus balonus--that shows up at Cannes. It's the 32-million things that a client needs, that's your job. Your job is to do them, to pull the client's ass out of the fire, to make the client look good. To come through and come through and come through. Even a eulogy for someone you don't know on a weekend in a rush.

Your job is to putt for dough.

To do the little things that build big wins.

Like I said, there was a time when agencies were treated well and paid well. I think it was because clients knew that those agencies came through with smart thinking when it was needed and asked for. And even more-so when the client didn't even know they needed it. They weren't worried about scopes and billable hours and deliverables. They were worried about delivering.

When I ran an agency I had a slogan. I still use it today. As in every day. "There's a big difference between doing the assignment and doing the job."

When advertising did the job people got rich from advertising. When we did nothing but the assignment advertising became a low-wage industry.

I believe in advertising that does the job. Advertising that over delivers. That knows the client and the client's products. And what makes them tick. And what makes them different.

That's the advertising industry I'm trying to build with GeorgeCo.

I couldn't give a rat's ass about the industry advertising has become. It's not the industry I love.

So far, five years into GeorgeCo., I've been able to find a lot of clients who like the way I work. 

I'd say 'they like the cut of my jib,' but that sounds too much like advertising.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Say Hey. One Last Time. (A Tribute.)

Willie Mays, and a large and well-muscled portion of my youth, died yesterday. Mark Harris, author of a tetralogy of baseball novels, maybe the best ever, once wrote "The only hero is the man without heroes."

1. The Southpaw.
2. A Ticket for a Seamstitch.
3. Bang the Drum Slowly, and
4. It Looked Like Forever.

I think Harris' quotation is right.

Though he had momentarily forgotten about Mays when he said it. 

In any event, below, some of my writing on Mays. And one of the best baseball songs ever, by the great Treniers.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thinking about Willie Mays.

Recently The New York Times reported that the Yankees were urged to sign Willie Mays (at 18, already the best ballplayer in the Negro Leagues) not once, but a good number of times between 1949 and 1950. 

The Yankees didn't even look at Mays, not because they had Mickey Mantle coming up, but because Mays didn't suit their view of what a Yankee should look like.

It occurs to me most agencies, in fact most businesses work in exactly this way. Years ago I read a book by engineer/scientist Ben Rich, called "Skunk Works." Rich was the lead of the top-secret Lockheed lab that developed many of the most-advanced air-craft the world has ever seen, including the stealth fighter and the blackbird. Once he developed a stealth ship for the navy, a ship that couldn't be seen by radar or sonar. The navy turned down his plans because Rich's ship didn't look like a ship. In other words, he created a Willie Mays and what they wanted was a Mickey Mantle.

Advertising agencies, of course, follow exactly the same practices. Just try to sell a cereal commercial without milk dripping off a spoon or a grin shot. Or a cosmetics commercial that doesn't follow the conceits of all other beauty commercials. And despite all the fulminations and breathing through the mouth by C-level people (most of whom have never written an ad) TV still comes first--because it always has.

I suppose we could call this Willie Mays syndrome.


To my San Francisco friends, I happened to see Willie Mays play in one of his last games. He joined the NY Mets and returned to New York in 1972 and finished his career in 1973. I saw him creaky and lonely one fall day when my friends and I cut out of school and headed to Shea. We had terrible seats, and Willie could hardly move, but none of that mattered.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On the start of baseball season.

Almost two decades ago, when my daughters were probably around seven and three, the great Ray Charles was playing in the great concert hall, Radio City Music Hall. I have been a Ray Charles fan since I was eight and saw and heard Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night" which features the music of Ray arranged by Quincy Jones.

I had never heard anything like it. So real, so moving, so naturalistic. As different from what I was used to hearing as the American Ash Can School was from the French Impressionists.

In any event, I took my daughters to see Ray Charles because I knew he was on his last legs and believed he was someone who should be seen before either you or he dies.

Forty years later I had a different but similar experience.

The hapless New York Mets--who even when they won somehow managed to be hapless--brought the "Say Hey" Kid, Willie Mays back to New York.

Mays, of course, was one of the greatest ever. Though Hank Aaron--and others--will eventually amass more homers, there was no one like Mays for power, speed, grace and daring. What's more, before the Giants moved west to San Francisco, Mays roamed the vast center field of the Polo Grounds, an ancient stadium in upper Manhattan. Mays was New York, famously playing stickball with kids in Harlem. Playing baseball and enjoying it for what it is, a boys' game.

By the time the Mets brought Mays back he was as creaky as a holding company's grip on finances. But still, me and my friends knew we had to see Mays play in person. So out we sneaked from school. Out to Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens.

We sat, of course, in the Upper Deck. These weren't the cheapest seats in the ball park, but they were close. We were way out in left field, so far away from the action at either the plate or center field, we could barely see Mays. Nevertheless, there was a little kid up near us with his father who screamed in his pre-teen falsetto when Mays was at bat, "Hey Willie, hit one over here!"

I think one fly ball was hit to Mays. And somehow he gathered it in though it looked like he could no longer run. It was sad to see the great Mays no longer great. But the point is we had seen him. We, in our own small, insignificant way, had paid homage to him.

In advertising, of course, we do not honor our forerunners. In fact, it seems, just the opposite happens. We bury them when they stop accumulating gold or speaking jargon. I used to work at two agencies that were at one time among the most-storied in the industry. They are all but forgotten today.

This is to our industry's detriment. We may never be as good as Charles or Mays. May never vary genres like Charles or make a basket catch like Mays.

But we can enjoy.

More important, we can learn.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Killing Me Softly.

I try to be a nice guy in many ways.

I try to help people in the industry when they come to me for help.

I try to return phone calls. 

I try to be a decent human being.

I try to connect people.

All that.

But when it comes to work, I'm not so nice.

A lot of my age-peers these days ask me why I work so hard. Why I'm so avaricious and hungry. Why I'm so determined and fervid.

I wrote something on my blog the other day--a kind of stream-of-consciousness response to those questions. Without really thinking about it, I wrote: "It's not about the money anymore, it's about kicking ass. 

I like to win. I like to win assignments. I like to win growth. I like to win for clients. I like to win against other people who want the business I want. I like to win against everyone who ever put me down because I'm not like other people and don't hang out with the boys. I like to win to show the big-money holding company fickers that I shouldn't have been thrown out at 62--at the peak of my powers--because I'm too old, or not diverse, or, I'm afraid, a Jew (in coded language, they call us: 'privileged'.) 

I like to win to show the poseurs in Cannes who are wearing wool hats in June and cliché facial hair and cliché tattoos, and who do cliché work that never actually runs and never actually has a material effect on anything other than a $12 trophy that you spent $12,000,000 trying to win, that you are little more than cultists pretending what you do and poo and make and fake are worthy of awards--awards that are leveraging a prestigious name to lend prestige to an industry that embarrassed to do what it's actually supposed to do, so it dresses itself up in fine feathers and furs to finagle the fakery of it all.

Also, re the people who have raped our industry, as they have pillaged so many others, who have seen marketing spend as percentage of corporate revenue drop to its lowest point ever (except for 2021 during the 'Covid' era) and who nevertheless persist in publicly whistling past the graveyard and celebrating their hubris, I want to win against them.

Against all that, I like to win.

Etiam si omnes, Ego no.

Even if all others, not I.

Not I.

There's a notion on our modern world about geniality, collegiality, bridge-building, togetherness, collaborationism and other treacly-sweet lies propagated by people who want to benefit from your hard work without paying for it. They want us to play nice while they're knives out stealing from us. It's the sort of bullshit that's behind the credits of a six-second spot being longer than the credits of Eisenstein's "Alexander Nevsky."

No. Don't watch the whole thing. It's too good for you.

You don't have to be a bastard and sabotage people. But I don't believe in playing nice. I believe in predatory thinking. (Thanks, Mr. Trott.) I believe in everything you are, everything you've learned, everything synapse you snap should be dedicated to winning. For yourself, your family, your work and your client.

The WSJ writes:

I think that's how I've written a blog every day for 17 straight years and survive in a business and a world and at times even a family that seems to want me dead, or at least forgotten.

Our purpose here is not to fade-away. Not to be forgotten or marginalized. Not to be unimportant.

That's what we're supposed to do for brands. Not with lies. Not with stunts that last about nine-seconds. Not with fake ads and their accompanying fake case-studies.

But with real work.

Work that makes brands thought about. Considered. Selected. Bought. Re-bought.

That day will come when I opt in to disappearance. 

But it will come on my terms.

See ya.