Friday, May 30, 2014


I started walking west, block after block west, mile after mile.

After what seemed like hours, when I was somewhere between Lima, Ohio and Saskatchewan, Canada, I arrived at the agency that was paying my day rate.

Madisain't Avenue. Conveniently located between halfway houses and railroad tracks.

Construction morning.

Now that the month of June is almost upon us, street-digging-up season is in full-swing in New York. After a long, hard, seemingly-endless winter, potholes have proliferated, water-mains have ruptured and gas-lines have sprung leaks.

It seems on every block or so a clump of heavyset men in fluorescent orange vests and hard-hats are surveying the situation. Right in front of my building there's a group of them who have marked the street near the curb in white spray paint and fenced the long, narrow space off with construction barriers. A circular concrete cutter that could bring down Cheops is doing its best to prepare the way for a giant back-hoe that its awaiting its asphalt meal from around the corner.

My building's super looks on in absolute terror. He redid the sidewalks late last year and just finished putting in new flowerbeds around the trees in front of my address. Will all this be un-done?

The splendor and I suppose horror of New York is that it is always under construction. My old man used to say "New York would be a great place to live if they ever finished it."

But like any massive project, whether in urban planning, dentistry or, I suppose, advertising, it will never quite be done. You have to keep digging to make things right.

No point this morning.

With all the construction happening I can hardly hear myself think.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mickey Mantle and advertising.

Back 50 years ago, the typical salary of a very good ballplayer in Major League Baseball was about $30,000 or $40,000. A ballplayer who was considered average would earn less, maybe $7,500 or $10,000. During that time, Mickey Mantle was earning $100,000.

No one said, I'd rather have ten $10,000 players than one Mickey Mantle. Or I'd rather have two Rocky Colavito's than one Mantle.


Only Mickey Mantle was Mickey Mantle and when the game was on the line, ten $10,000 players couldn't come to the plate. Nor could two Rocky Colavito's.

You wanted Mickey at bat.

Not a substitute, cheaper, ersatz model.

If you are an adherent of Military Science, you would call this "concentration of force." Where you overwhelm your opponent with your power.

In advertising, of course, we follow a different and I think dangerous dicta.

We get rid of our high-priced talent and replace them with two or three people at a lesser, aggregate cost.

We consider this "good fiscal management."

A long time ago I sat in a meeting with a gaggle of HR professionals and my boss. My boss and I were the only creatives in the room and together with the HR people we were trying to create a review form geared to assessing creatives.

We dicked around for about 45 minutes and finally my boss couldn't take it anymore.

"There's one way to evaluate creatives," he said. "When it's Friday night and the pitch is due Monday, do you want them in over the weekend?"

The question isn't 'are there four people not quite as good who can help out?'

There's a reason Mickey Mantle was expensive.

He was worth it.


I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the advertising industry's two or three decade's-long infatuation with forming emotional connections between brands and consumers is as off and misguided as taking 45 days to write a tweet.

When I think about the contents of my apartment, the food I eat, the machines I own, the car I drive, it may be weird but I don't really have purely emotional connections with any of them.

Certainly, I don't have an emotional connection with anything in my kitchen or the closet where we keep our laundry and cleaning supplies. No, really. Most of the things I like, I like because they provide rational benefits.

The tomato sauce we buy, for instance, we buy because it is all natural with no added sugar. Not because it reminds me of my childhood in Tuscany. Same with our furniture polish or soap.

I feel no emotions about these things.

Even bigger things like my television I have no emotional connection to. I bought a Samsung five years ago because I heard they last long. If someone came in at night and replaced it with the same sized Panasonic, I would not be bereft.

Down in the garage sits my BMW. When I decided to buy it, I made a purely rational decision. Emotionally, Audi, Mercedes and BMW were all equal to me. The BMW had the longest warranty and 4-year, 100,000 mile protection.

My running shoes, too.

I look not for the swoosh of athletic coolness, I look for something sturdy enough to manage my girth.

I wonder if our industry's obsession with emotional connections comes from our unwillingness to do the hard work of finding a difference.

Pursuant to one of my posts last week, I wonder if these so-called emotions are the 21st Century au courant way of treating the consumer like a moron.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Apple and advertising.

I'm in the Apple store on Fifth Avenue as I write this, the much vaunted Apple store, where the so-called geniuses-in-residence have had no success in repairing my MacBook Pro.

That said, there's a lot we in advertising can learn from how requests for service are handled by Apple. I think about this after having read the "Business Insider"a article about the 45-days it took one company to get a tweet created and posted. It's best to read the "Ad Contrarian's" post about it here.

Apple, as is their DNA, makes things simple.

You make an appointment.

You describe your problem.

They fix it.

You ok their fix.

And that's that.

In advertising, of course, things are way more complicated.

In fact, the person with the communication problem seldom ever gets to speak with the person arriving at the communication solution.

We further complicate things by a) not being able to articulate our problem and b) deciding to research what people think about all this.

It seems to me that using a regular mop, for instance, is difficult, messy and hard work. So, we show how simple Swiffer is in comparison.

You can add all kinds of bs to the process about the emotional rewards of clean linoleum corners, but all that doesn't really amount to a hill of beans.

So maybe ad agencies should be set up like the genius bar.

We get a problem.

We fix it.

If you want to go further, here's how we fix it according to the methodology used by Dave Trott.

That is, here's how we get impact.

Here's what we're communicating.

Here's how we're persuading.

Thank you very much.

Peril at sea.

Hopelessly lost. Or not?
Throughout the world, in worlds far from our own, there are empty or nearly empty islands or capes or peninsulas that have been aptly named by the sailors and explorers who had landed upon them, safely or otherwise.

Sable Island, a long, thin strip of nothing near the Grand Banks is also called The Island of Tragedies. It's said more than 350 ships met their doom on the rocks and sandbars that gird the strip of desolate land.

A world away three-miles west of Elephant Island lies an isolated reef called Horror Rock. It doesn't take a surfeit of imagination to wonder about the travails and terrors that prevailed there. I imagine rocky land strewn with the bones of Davy Jones.

Tierra del Fuego is home to Fury Island.

Australia is home to Cape Catastrophe.

Darwin wrote about some of these seas as he sailed on the Beagle a century and three-quarters ago. "One sight is enough to makes a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril and death."

These are not merry places.

And while I've never visited their like, I have navigated the waters of New York and Madison Avenue. I've seen people washed up, beat down and smashed against the rocks of life. I've seen the best minds of my generation folded, spindled and mutilated.

Most people at one time or another founder on their own personal Cape Catastrophe or Island of Tragedies or Horror Rock.

And most are able to do as Shackleton's captain Worsley did. They sail to safety through dangerous seas and hike to others for help amid the storm.

That's the lesson in all this, really.

As Yogi Berra might have said, "when you come to the end of the road, keep going."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My wife and Tom Joad.

Eight months ago, after not having a car for over 30 years (my previous car, a 1976 Ford Capri which never ran right was stolen from a parking garage located at an old Mobil gas station on the FDR and 73rd Street that has since been torn down and replaced by a luxury high-rise) I went and bought a used 2011 BMW 3-Series with 33,000 miles on it.

It's a wonderful car. Just the right size for the city and for me and my wife and Whiskey. It's not as economical as I'd like--I wish I could have afforded the 2014 model which has a 4-cylinder engine and consequently gives much better gas-mileage, but other than that, it's pretty much a perfect car for us.

That is, until we drive back from a long weekend at the Cape, when my wife loads it like the Joad's Ford Model T.

It takes a lot to do that to a BMW.

Weather report.

As so often happens when you're leaving some place you'd rather be, today's getaway weather is just magnificent. After a long weekend of temperatures in the high 50s to low 60s and a fair amount of clouds and even a bit of drizz, it is 72 as I write this and the sky is an azure like you read about in travel magazines.

Things often unfold these ways. Like Robert Burns said so many centuries ago, "The best laid plans of Mice and Men..."

More annoying and perhaps more to the point, I've had two freelance jobs as capricious as the weather. They say "yes," and then moments later call back sheepishly and say "no." The cash register in my head is staying shut for now.

I have always been one who doesn't count his chickens until they're hatched and even though it's been just a short while, this seems especially true with freelance assignments. That said, I must be doing something right, because, the phone rings and people are asking about me.

Long ago when I was at Ally & Gargano, someone told me a quotation by the epigrammatic Carl Ally: "Advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." Right now, while the weather is comfortable, I am feeling afflicted.

Hopefully, there will be some work soon to comfort me.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day thoughts.

The closest I ever came to joining the Army was back in 1974 when I pilfered my brother's draft card. Vietnam was raging and America still had a draft, so my brother, 21 months older than I, had a draft card.

IDs, like a draft card or a driver's license were different back then. Basically, they were cardstock with angular computer type and the ornate seal of whatever governing body issued them. They contained your personal information, name, date of birth, height, weight and eye color, but no hologram or photo.

So, when they ended the draft in 1974, and my brother got his driver's license, I got his Selective Service card, so I could drink, too. (The drinking age in New York back then was 18. And bartenders and liquor store owners were not nearly as strict as they are today.)

Before we had proper drinking ID, we would send my friend Fred into liquor stores to buy our booze. Fred was tall, broad, tough-looking and black and fewer people would dare question him. One time he came back to the car holding a case of beer and laughing.

"They asked for ID," he said.

We asked him what he did--he had none.

"I said, 'no one asked for ID in Vietnam,' and they gave me the beer."

Back then, if you were a certain age you had to register for the draft and when the time came you got the aforementioned draft card. Again in the wake of Vietnam, America went to an all volunteer army.

This means, in most cases, an army of the very poor and very desperate. Most of middle class America, these days, knows no one in the armed forces. So when the inevitable wars do come, they're fought by other people--people we don't know who live in parts of the country we flyover.

This makes the wars we fight much less real for most of us. We hear about them on the news after Kim and Kanye's wedding. They become part of the great American side-show.

I never wanted to be in the army, but there was something fairer and more honest about a universal draft.

Today we feign Memorial Day as we barbecue and are besieged by commercials for mattress sales.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cape Cod morning.

I was up early this morning, roused by Whiskey actually. Through some heavy breathing and the insistent push of her cold, wet nose she got me up an at 'em well-before seven a.m.

The sun was not out. Rather, the sky was covered with a thick shroud of clouds and the temperature was decidedly un-summer-like, in the high 50s. I sat on the front stoop of the cottage we're renting, my wife asleep upstairs, my daughters and their boy friends and girl friends splayed over the rest of the place.

Whiskey brought me the rubberized duck decoy I bought her. It looked indestructible in the photos online--it being made for dogs way tougher than Whiskey, hunting dogs from the country, not city sophisticates like Whiskey. But in short-order yesterday she removed its head and began tearing the foam floatation from the suffering ersatz fowl.

I would throw it--the headless duck--as far as I could and Whiskey responded as she's been bred to do, bringing it back to me with despatch. This act made her proud. She cantered back, head up high, saying with her eyes and her smile, 'look what I caught,' and she'd drop the dead foam animal at my size 12s.

We walked the path down to the water, some ancient inlet whose name is all p's and esses that would take me a good week to learn how to pronounce. Ponopposet? Possoppoppet? Whatever, we headed to the murk, but Whiskey hasn't yet mastered the feat of jumping from a dock, and stood there looking at me and saying 'I don't want to go in.' Like a good dad, I didn't force her.

The dock is a good hundred yards from the house, but I still heard some stirring. People were slowly beginning to wake up, coffee and get ready for the day. Whiskey and I played fetch some more, on dry land, with an old hefty stick. And then we headed indoors.

Far away--in Belgium and Santa Barbara--people mourned the dead, ten this time from deranged gunmen who wreaked havoc and vengeance for crimes committed only in the gunmen's heads. But like I said. That is sad and far away.

And it's time for breakfast on the Cape.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Off to the Cape.

Years ago, before things got complicated, my friends and I had the world pretty much on a string. If we worked all summer, for 13 weeks, we could make $1300. That was enough to give us $20/week for school expenses with $100 leftover.

With that $100, we would head up to Cape Cod and live seven of us in an "efficiency" for a week and drink beer, eat heroes and play wiffle ball endlessly on the beach. The evenings would be turned over to looking for winsome feminine forms.

I had a 1964 Mercury Park Lane, a blue behemoth that could seat an entire professional football team. I had a portable cassette player that I plugged into lighter in the ashtray below the dash. That way we could listen to Pink Floyd or the Beatles as we headed north.

The Cape has changed less in 40 years than most of the world. There are chain stores now and I suppose more traffic and more new-Gilded-Age glitz. But it is still primarily unspoiled.

At least I hope so.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dark thoughts.

There was an old ballplayer who I was thinking about yesterday. His name was  Pete Reiser--Pistol Pete, and many people, including such baseball savants as Leo Durocher, believed he could have been one of the immortals.

In his first season for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941, when he was just 22, Reiser led the league in batting, doubles, triples, runs scored and slugging percentage. He finished second in votes for most valuable player.

Unfortunately for Reiser, that first season was the high-water mark of his checkered career. The war interrupted, of course, but Reiser's real downfall was his utter inability to slow down. He literally ran into walls to catch balls in the outfield. Along the way he racked his body with injuries, concussions and shoulder injuries. As Durocher said about him, "He had everything but luck."

Reiser fractured his skull running into an outfield wall and still made his throw back to the infield. Another time he was temporarily paralyzed from a collision with a wall, another time he was given his last rites on the field. In total, he was carried off the field on a stretcher 11 times. A record, if you count records for these kind of things.

I think of myself as something like the Pete Reiser of advertising. I don't slow down when I get to walls. I don't save myself for later. I go full tilt.

This, of course, is out-of-step with how things are arranged today. Today we have an antiseptic approach to most of life--and we keep most of life at arm's length. We are told by pop psychologists and the homilies people I despise post on their social media outlets to "go with the flow," to "let things go," to "take it easy."

We're never supposed to be like Reiser and crash into walls.

But what are walls for if not crashing into?

Why try if you're not trying your hardest?

Why dip your toe in the water if not to make waves?

This attitude has probably cost me some years in my career and maybe some years off my life. Reiser retired a broken man at 33 and died at just 62.

But he died knowing he'd given his all.

He wasn't a spectator.

He tried.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mutiny in the Tempus Fugit.

I arrived last night at the Tempus Fugit at precisely the stroke of 3:33, a symmetrical number if not an auspicious one. We had braved a night of thunder that frightened neither myself nor Whiskey and we made our way to the one bar in New York that never closes and hasn’t since it first opened in 1924.

As usual, I was greeted not with a hello or a handshake, but by the ancient bartender with a bit of convoluted philosophizing.

“The allurements of dissipation are more than equal to anything that can be conceived,” he said.

With that he pulled me a perfectly topped Pike’s (the ALE that won for YALE!) and I assumed that was that, allurement of dissipation-wise. I sipped the cool amber nectar and it went right to my thirsty heart. In short order, I was due another Pike’s and the bartender complied.

“Most people know of ‘The Mutiny on the Bounty,’” he began, “either from the superior Charles Laughton movie of 1935 or the inferior version with Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando from 1962.”

“You’re right about that,” I agreed. “I prefer Laughton in just about anything. I think my favorite film of his was directed by David Lean, called ‘Hobson’s Choice.’”

“A good picture, but entirely besides the point. This isn’t about Laughton. It is about the allurements of dissipation.”

Laughton was not an easy man to root for.
I nodded and answered, “I know them well.”

“It is thought,” he continued “by most that Bligh’s cruelty and harshness aboard the Bounty is what led the better half of his crew, led by Fletcher Christian, to mutiny. Nothing could be further or even farther from the truth.”

I finished number two and in short apple-pie order another was placed before me.

“Bligh’s full quotation is as follows: ‘The women are handsome ... and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved – The chiefs have taken such a liking to our people that they have rather encouraged their stay among them than otherwise, and even made promises of large possessions. Under these and many other attendant circumstances equally desirable it is therefore now not to be wondered at ... that a set of sailors led by officers and void of connections ... should be governed by such powerful inducement ... to fix themselves in the midst of plenty in the finest island in the world where they need not labour, and where the allurements of dissipation are more than equal to anything that can be conceived.’”

“That’s quite a mouthful,” I said completely devoid of sagacity.

“Bligh’s men had been on Tahiti for 23 weeks, harvesting breadfruit trees for importation to the Caribbean. Most, in that time, had succumbed to the allurements of dissipation in the form of drink and womanly flesh.”

“Who can blame them?” I asked, again with a dearth of insight.

“After those 23-weeks in Paradise, Lieutenant Bligh’s men were unwilling to return to their labours on the Bounty.”

“Again,” I said, twirling my glass, “who can blame them.”
With 19 men in an open boat, Bligh navigated by the stars, 3,700 miles to safety.

“Bligh is the hero of the story,” the bartender continued. “With 19 men in an open boat just 23-feet long, he navigated by the stars from Tofua to Timor, where he knew of a Dutch settlement.

“They were on the open seas with little water, less hardtack and even less rum, for 47 days—3700 nautical miles, yet Bligh compassionately kept all his men alive, save one who was killed by cannibals.”

“Cannibal is no longer politically-correct,” I corrected, “we now say ‘same-species eaters.’”

He laughed at that and ploughed ahead.

“History, of course, celebrates the slackers. Slackers are better story-tellers. The noble Christian and his mutineers. Bligh, despite his Dickensian last name, is the hero.

“He did his job. He found a way. He resisted the allurements of dissipation.”

“I suppose, then, in keeping with this evening's theme, I should resist having another,” I said.
Like Brando, the mutineers were unable to resist the allurements of dissipation.

Again he laughed. Twice in one evening.

“Do what you do. Resist the allurements. And go home.”

I pushed two twenties his way, across the teak.

“On me,” he said, resisting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A day in New York in May.

Yesterday afternoon I was on an uptown C-train clacking our way hence when we stopped at West 4th Street. On stepped three ball players from Landmark High School clad in their baseball garb and wearing their caps and gloves and raring to go.

A little bit of my childhood from 40 years ago got on the train with them.

Back in the crazy early 70s, my team would come into Manhattan twice or three times a season to play city schools in Central Park. Our beaten yellow school bus would clatter to a diesel stop in front of the Museum of Natural History and in short order two dozen boys or so would spill out of the conveyance, dressed in our double-knits and armed with duffle bags jammed with wooden bats, battling helmets and the tools of ignorance.

I'm not sure if Central Park West was still cobblestone back then, but I remember the sharp sound of our spikes on the surface of the road and on the asphalt paths leading up to the playing fields at 81st Street. We would kick at the surface hoping our metal spikes would spark like a dragging muffler from an old Checker cab.

Central Park was not back then the well-manicured oasis of green it has become. The fields were dusty, dirty and rutted with tire marks left over from a wet winter. The chain-link back-stops looked like a migrant worker's shack and the few park denizens who would congregate to watch our games were less-than-savory. Once while I was playing a short left field, I was offered drugs by a couple of sports-loving pushers. I told them their reefer was an interference to the game, and besides I had no pockets and no money.

The boys held onto the stainless steel straps of the train and stretched their arms in preparation for their upcoming exertions. They looked tough and ready. They looked strong and determined. I could almost hear them cry in their Spanish "lo tengo," as they circled under a lazy flyball.

Like I did, they got out as I expected at 81st Street. That's the stop closest to the ballfields of the Great Lawn.

I thought for more than a second or two about not running to catch the crosstown bus and making my way home. I thought maybe I'd follow the Landmark High stalwarts and watch their game and even, if I felt it, root them on to victory.

It was a beautiful day yesterday, sunny and in the low 70s, and I probably could have avoided my afternoon's tasks without too much strain. But I had freelance work to do and wanted to send it in, as promised, by the end of the day which I did.

I'll never know, now, who won the game.

My age.

Someone just suggested that I shorten my resume and to pretend that I am younger than I am, all to combat our industry’s scourge of ageism.

Take off your first ten years in the business, they said.

Pretend you’re 46. Not 56.

Here’s why I won’t listen.

While at my first job, I was trained by Harold Karp, one of the best copywriters in the business. He had come off a streak of winning One Show pencils and a Gold Lion at Cannes, before lions started multiplying like rabbits. He thought I showed promise and would go over my copy with me word-by-word, line-by-line. I learned day-by-day.

At my second job, I worked near the Strand bookstore and bought about 20-years’ worth of One Show and Art Directors’ annuals, which I studied and studied. I also had to present to the youngest-ever inductee in the Copywriter's Hall-of-Fame, Ron Rosenfeld and his partner and advertising Hall-of-Famer, Len Sirowitz. They didn’t have too much to say but I did read their hundreds of award-winning ads. And I learned.

At my third job I got tutored like in my first job, by an exquisite and precise boss, Ed Butler. Ed was a surgeon with my copy until he was satisfied I knew what I was doing. Then he said, “I trust you. You don’t have to show me your copy anymore.” I also wrote 100 ads a year for five years, having to get some of them past Hall-of-Famers Mike Tesch or Amil Gargano.

All of this happened during my first ten years in the business.

The ones I’m supposed to excise from my resume.

I'm proud of what I accomplished and learned during those years.

I rose, quickly, in those ten years from a copywriter to an SVP, Creative Group Head.

I think if a place doesn’t want to accept me and all the places and people that made me me, I suppose I don’t want to work there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Recruiting Recruiters.

Many years ago, I had a big title and an even bigger corner office. I got those appurtenances because I could do things that very few other creatives could do.

When the house was burning and flaming rafters were falling all around us, I could come through with speed, clarity, wit and insight.

When our backs were up against the wall of a deadline, when the work was due by nightfall, I could get it done and done well.

When the client was a dickwad and impossible to please because their demands and expectations were similarly dickwadish, I hardly batted an eye.

When the assignment was high-level and politically fraught, I was somehow able to navigate past Scylla and Charybdis and come through with the goods.

In fact, I became essentially the agency’s “Chief Fire-Putting-Out Officer.”

There are people who are way cooler than I.
Way trendier.
Way better at the agency game.

But when the shit is hitting the HVAC, call me.

You’ll like what you get. 

And you'll get it fast.

Please share this with those whom you think could benefit. Clients or agencies.

Thoughts from a freelancer.

Perhaps his most famous book. About so much more than boxing.
One of the people that people no longer read is A.J. Liebling, the great "New Yorker" writer, who toiled for that magazine for 28 years, until he died in 1963.

I don't know why people don't read Liebling anymore. I think I've learned more about writing from he and Joseph Mitchell than from just about anyone. If you ever feel the desire to read crisp, clear, precise and biting prose, look Liebling up. You won't be let down.

What's more, Liebling wrote essays which I reckon most people could polish off in about 20 minutes. In other words, you can read a genius for the price of a sitcom or an episode of reality TV.

Liebling wrote about the little people, the forgotten people, the fringe people. And also some of the best books on boxing ever written. And the best books about horse-racing, crime, politics, Paris and food. He never fails to land a body blow or to hand you a laugh, sometimes in the same essay.

Liebling once said "I can write faster than anyone who can write better, and I can write better than anyone who can write faster."

I think that might be an apt epigram for me, too, as I finished up last night a week's work in a day.

I'm still learning the freelancer ropes.

I suppose I should pace myself more.

But what I've found thus far is this: a lot of times you're told to write an ad that's due at 1. You better have it done. It better be good. And it's not a bad thing to present four or six ideas that get people's wheels turning.

Despite what some long-time and successful freelancers gush about, I'm not sure the caprice of freelancing suits my cosmology.

I do like the inclemency of deadlines.

But I like a little security with my pressure.

For now however, I'll waft into Memorial Day weekend without a whole helluva lot to do.

Except maybe I'll read a little A.J. Liebling.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Think big.

Maybe it's a waste of my time, but I happen to think a lot about the advertising industry. Today, perhaps because of where I am working, I been turning over one of David Ogilvy's famous quotations in my head. That is, "the consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife."

I happen to think that part of the demise of the modern advertising industry has occurred precisely because we have decided to treat consumers like morons.

When I was a little kid, I remember seeing an ad for Toshiba color televisions. They showed the reader that Toshiba's pixels were rectangular whereas other sets' pixels were round. The rectangular shape allowed the space between the red, green and blue to be smaller. More color, less black equals a better picture.

If I were to buy a car, I'd like to know that Mercedes-Benz's use a higher percentage of high-strength low alloy steel than Kia does.

But no one tells us any more. They treat us like morons.

As an industry, I think we used to revel in facts like these. They played to the consumers' intelligence and surely differentiated products.

That sort of advertising has all but disappeared now.

It's disappeared because we've decided we need to capture the emotions of the viewer.

It's disappeared because we have to show smiling people using our products.

It's disappeared because we've decided the consumer is dumb and inert.

It's disappeared because we've gotten too lazy to dig, as have our clients.

I'm not saying advertising shouldn't be emotional. But emotions are a parity product. And giving me a reason why I should be more in love with my Toshiba or Mercedes makes sense to me.

"Think Small" by Volkswagen which many people regard as the greatest ad ever had 140 words of copy. I counted. It enumerated the following advantages:

* 32 mpg
* Less oil needed (five pints, not quarts)
* No anti-freeze needed
* 42,000 miles on a set of tires
* Easy to park
* Low insurance costs
* Low operating costs
* High resale value

With all that the ad somehow built an emotional connection with the viewer, while building a brand, while selling a car.

The ad ended with the same three words with which I'll end this post.

Think it over.

Away from the fringes.

I spotted this one half block from work.
The center of gravity of American--and maybe world--business used to be and maybe still is Midtown Manhattan. So the American advertising industry centered itself around that center and dubbed itself "Madison Avenue."

Today, of course, that moniker is as anachronistic as a cab driver who speaks the Queen's English, or even English as it is spoken in Queens.

Today, we have retreated to the fringes.

Madison Avenue might just as well be renamed Madisain't Avenue. Because we ain't here. We're not in the center of things. I suspect it's because we are no longer instrumental to the success of major businesses. We are a cost. Not a necessity.

Further, with the atomization of media and media channels, we spend our days working on communications that virtually no one will ever see.

It used to be when you looked at a creative's portfolio, you'd say "Oh, they did that Listerine work." Now we say, "I never saw that work."

I believe there's one road back for our industry. One way to once again matter.

Focus our clients on the one thing we want them to be known for. And put all our creative power behind that one thing.

If our communications are as fragmented and atomized as the world's messaging channels, all will continue to be lost. If you want to make a dent, it's better to throw a brick than to throw confetti.

There's one more thing.

Let's stop focusing on creating work that no one sees outside of Cannes.

Let's abandon Cannes.

Let's get back to the center of business, the center of town, the center of America.

And try to turn Madisain't Avenue back to Madison Avenue.

Friday, May 16, 2014

My speech to graduates.

I'm flying out to LA this morning--the whole family is going--to see my younger daughter graduate from college.

I've never been asked to speak at a college graduation, but if I were invited to give a commencement at an ad school, I think this is what I might say:

When you're in the real world, it's easy to get buried.

We can get buried with the daily efforts of life. Finding and apartment and affording one. Juggling expenses and commutes and all the quotidian shit that comes at you fast when you're heading off on your own.

We can get buried by the burdens of jobs. Of finding one, of keeping one, of performing in one and trying to find a better one, with bigger paychecks, greater responsibilities and more opportunities.

We can be buried under ambitions and pressures and agency politics. Buried under six page briefs and two-day deadlines and stupid bosses and obnoxious clients.

We can be buried to the point where everyday feels like the Bataan Death March.

It's easy to be buried.

It's not so easy to keep what you have today.

Which is a spark.

The spark of optimism.

The spark of fight.

The spark of not settling.

The spark of trying.

That's your real job. Whether you're a planner, or an account person, or an art director, or copywriter. Or whether you're anything else.

To take all the "no's," all the fears and all the doubts and burn them into oblivion with your spark.

Very few people rise to the top of our business.

It's notorious for chewing people up and spitting them out.

Of calling them "old" when they're not much older than you.

Of schmising and destroying their perfectly hewn ads.

That's life.

But the people with integrity, the people who will make it, the people who will rise to, dare I say it, happiness, will keep their spark alive.

In the words of my best friend's father, they keep laughing, keep learning, keep loving.

They won't be mere agency technocrats.

Or paper-pushers.

Or worse, supervisors.

They'll get up earlier than most and do something great.

They'll do something great and even if it doesn't get bought, they'll be better people for having done it.