Monday, October 20, 2014

Creativity is not dead.

I probably don't do enough of this here at RoundSeventeen, after all I am a hired gun and should grease the skids and kiss a little ass more often, but today I am going to sing the praises of a new TV campaign.

Namely, three commercials for Tomcat Mouse Repellant.

Generally speaking, the bar for creativity for products designed to kill pests and vermin is admittedly low. Years ago, we pitched and won the Ortho Bug B Gon account for BBDO. The roach and flea and ant jokes just wrote themselves.

Nevertheless, this effort from Barton Graf 9000, the most oddly named ad agency in America, is worthy of our attention.

In very meta terms, it is absurdist theater turned into absurdist theater.

The production value is purposefully low. The USP (unique selling propositions, for you laymen) are forcefully delivered upfront. And the writing is simply inspired.

In other words, it goes about its business the way 99% of ad agencies don't go about theirs.

I can count on one hand the number of bosses that would have let this kind of work out the door. And frankly can't think of a single CEO who would've given it the green light.

"It's cheesy"

"It's silly."

"All the characters are dead."

Yes. Yes. And yes.

You can find these little gems on YouTube. For your convenience, I've embedded my favorite.

Why, you may ask, is this my favorite?

It's simple really. In this weird scenario, you have one dead mouse swinging a pointy mace and killing another mouse, who it should be noted, is already dead.

If that's not Cannes Gold, I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Lost Art of Underthinking

I was in a meeting about a month ago. Actually, it does me no good to pinpoint the date of this meeting because I was in the same meeting 2 months ago. Two years ago. 5 years ago. And 10 years ago.

You know the kind of meeting.

A dozen of the agency's top minds gathered to share their opinions, ply their office politics and grandstand on a do-little, utterly-disposable, completely-mindless piece of crap communication that will cost $581,327 in research, labor and man hours to produce. And return $27 in actual revenue.

I'm no Nobel-Prize winning economist Milton Friedman -- we had the Friedmans over for Pesach once and Roy Friedman drank all the Slivovitz and started dancing with the drapes -- but the numbers simply don't jive.

Is it any wonder why ad agencies can't make any money these days and demand employees put in 80 hour weeks while chained to the SuperDesk™.

The simplest down-and-dirty, get-it-out-the-door project has become a mental clusterfuck that makes the current Sunni/Shia/ISIS/Yazedi crises look like child's play.

And media fragmentation has only exacerbated the situation.

It may take a village to raise a child but it takes a battalion to put together a banner ad. A small army to  spit out an FSI. And a full-blown coalition to concept a simple TV spot.

Not since the last congressional caucus have I seen so many people accomplishing so little.

And yet the good folks in HR are still hiring more.

We don't need more.
We need less.

In fact we need less of everything.
Less people in the room.
Less input.
Less data.
Less client feedback.
Less testing.
Less tweaking.
Less pages in the deck.
Less Powerpoints.
Less layers.
Less top management.
Less circle backs, deep dives and base touching.
Less Devil advocates.

We need to do more with our gut.
Less with our brain.

And on that note.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Taking Sides

Unless you've been hiding in a cave in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, you must have heard or seen the recent kerfuffle between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher/Sam Harris regarding Islam.

Many articles and opinions have been floating around since then and I have resisted the urge to weigh in on the matter, preferring instead to soak in as much as I can. However, like a hot Muhammara, the issue has been burning a hole in my stomach and I can resist no more.

If you've been following RoundSeventeen at all you know I'm not a big fan of organized religion. I have disdain for them all.

Last week I ripped the Hasidem, whose Jewish idiocy with regards to women, the refusal to turn a light switch on a Saturday, and ungodly attitude towards menstrual juices is surpassed by none.

No less stupid are the fundamental Christians who insist on handling deadly copperheads and rattlesnakes as a testament of their faith.

And don't even get me started on the Trinity, Immaculate Conception, virgin birth, and creationism. All moronic, all worthless and all taken on face value without a shred of evidence.

I have a disdain for religion, but that disdain is not equal. Because as Sam Harris so eloquently stated, when Ben Affleck wasn't grandstanding and shouting over him, "Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas."

The Five Pillars, Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj, I have no problems with. These are largely spiritual practices that do not infringe or affect others. If it were to stop there, fine.

But it doesn't stop there, because Islam is more than a religion it is a political and cultural phenomena that includes human being's worst practices:

* death for apostasy
* jihad
* kuffar
* martyrdom
* repression of women's rights
* death for homosexuality
* dhimmitude
* The Caliphate
* violent anti-semitism

These are tenets of Islam that are supported by the Quran and the Hadith. Before you reach for your Bible or Old Testament, know that I am very aware of the passages that are just as disturbing and just as violent.

Here's the difference, and it's a big one.

In the year 2014 AD, you don't find Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, or followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, piloting planes into buildings, strapping on suicide vests, or separating people's heads from their torsos in the hope of receiving 72 virgins in paradise.

More importantly, and this is the point Sam Harris was trying to make before Ben Affleck hijacked the stage, it is the ideas of Islam that merit our criticism, not the followers of Islam. Only by challenging these barbaric precepts do we stand any chance of moving past them.

Much like the imbecilic belief that we are center of the universe. Or dinosaurs roamed the land 6,000 years ago. Or that the sun revolves around the Earth.

Similarly, by failing to contest Islam, out of some misguided respect or political correctness, western liberals and progressives have conceded and in effect enabled the first steps in the long, slow march back to the Dark Ages.

It's not the direction I'd like to see us moving towards. Particularly since I am the father of two daughters.

Which brings me to one final point about the 1.6 billion peaceful, hardworking Muslims, who, according to Affleck just want to live their lives and go to the store and get a sandwich.

Great, get your sandwich, go home, be with your families and live your lives. However, I'm having a sandwich too. It might be pulled pork. It might even be topped with bacon. But what I eat, what I believe, what I choose to do with my life is none of your concern.

So if you subscribe to the abhorrent notion that Jews, infidels and homosexuals should be shot, or that it's acceptable to hit, rape or stone your wife, or that the laws of this land are meaningless when compared to the all-knowing, all-merciful laws of some imaginary Sky Daddy, I don't care what religious stripe you wear, there's a mighty good chance I'm not going to like you.

Sorry Ben, that's not gross.
That's not racist.
That's not me being prejudiced. Or pre-judging.

That's me judging.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Skunked Again

Came across this recently on social media.

It's a list of the Top Ten advertising blogs that every student of advertising should be reading.

Naturally, RoundSeventeen failed to make the list.

I suspect they could have expanded the list to 100 and my blog would have come in at 101. I remember when I was made a Vice President and looked forward to flying Business Class. The day after my promotion, HR put out a memo that Business Class was now only for Senior Vice Presidents.


With regard to this magical list, that's OK. Because I never viewed R17 as an exclusive blog about advertising. As my 8 loyal readers know I often delve into other matters of far less importance: Politics, religion, the meaning of life, well, the meaning of my life.

What I don't understand is the glaring omission of other true advertising blogs that merit much more attention than the 10 given ink.

Luke Sullivan has an ad blog.

Dave Trott has a great ad blog.

So does the lumbering Mark Fenske, who should write more, including a post to yours truly, which he promised me three months ago.

And then there are the ad blogs I find myself reading every day.

For my daily fill of British grumpiness, there's George Parker.

There's my pal George Tannenbaun, who often bills himself as the 10th oldest copywriter still in the business. I guess that makes me, at the tender age of 44, the 11th oldest active copywriter.

And finally there is Bob Hoffman who pens the Ad Contrarian.

I thoroughly enjoy Bob's blog because he often says what the rest of us are thinking. I try to do the same but the truth is I'm still peddling my goods on the freelance circuit and in the interest of continued employment have to keep my guns somewhat holstered.

I'm sure there are others out there that I am forgetting and I apologize in advance. And because writers are good at holding grudges, I'm also sure those writers, when pressed to rattle off their favorite blogs, will gleefully omit RoundSeventeen.

That's OK, I'm getting used to it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

$7000 down the toilet

There's a guy in nearby Calabasas selling a 1976 Corvette Stingray.

It has a 350 cubic inch, 8 cylinder engine and apart from a U-joint replacement is in perfect running condition. I'm willing to bet the glove compartment is chock full of cassettes: Foghat, Robin Trower, Little Feat, and Led Zepellin.

For another two hundred dollars I'm sure he'd throw in the classic music collection.

Guess what? I just dropped $7000 in one fell swoop.

But before you jump to conclusions, you should know that on my driveway you will NOT find a pitiful attempt to grab a second bite at the apple, some neon orange pronouncement to the world that I should be out there, in the words of Randle McMurphy, "bird-dogging chicks and banging beaver."

No, the 7K I shelled out went for something far more pragmatic, far more urgent.

Last week, after years of delay, we did a full main line sewer replacement. A PVC overhaul, from the crawl space below the house all the way to main line buried on Le Bourget Ave.

Le Bourget is French for bottomless pit of home repairs.

Like most homeowners, my wife and I had been putting off the replacement for far too long. We knew we had to do it. We just needed to wait for the perfect time. And it seemed the day before my mother-in-laws' funeral was that perfect time.

Years ago, when my daughters were in their early teens and itching for us to leave the house without them, my wife and I went out to Ugo for some passable Italian food. No sooner had we asked the waiter for desert did we receive a frantic call from my youngest. She's the reigning Culver City Queen of Drama, so we've learned to dismiss her tzimis.

"The toilet won't flush and the house smells funny."

OK Abby, we thought, we'll be home soon, not willing to abandon the chocolate mud cake we had just ordered.

When we got home we realized that the girl who cried wolf should have mentioned that the wolf, and the entire pack of wolves, had evacuated themselves in the guest bathroom and the guest shower.

I was looking at three inches of unfiltered, untreated raw sewage. If the sub-flooring in the bathroom wasn't slightly canted -- luckily -- it would have spread out into the living room.

The clean-up took three days and two 5 gallon jugs of bleach and ammonia.

We snaked the main line.
A year later we snaked it again.
6 months after that, and in decreasing intervals, we kept snaking it until last week, when we could snake it no more.

The full line trenchless replacement was a marvel to watch. Had I been thinking I would have filmed the hardworking crew of 10 Armenian plumbers as they destroyed my yard. For the record I did Google Armenia to determine their general outlook vis-a-vis, Jews.

They attached a heavy metal wedge type device to a 25 foot long PVC pipe. Then, with the aid of a hydraulic machine and thick metal cable, literally dragged the new pipe inside the old clay pipe. The metal wedge acted like a splitter and exploded the former clay pipe 4 feet below the surface of the earth.

It rumbled under the ground like a series of 3.2 mini earthquakes.

Like I said, it was fascinating. Not $7000 worth of fascinating, but that's my life.

I don't have a bright orange, 350 horsepower mid-life crises sitting on my driveway. But I do have the iron-clad guarantee that the remains of last night's roast chicken dinner have been safely whooshed away to 5 miles off the coast of El Segundo.

I hope the whales will enjoy it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A lot of Hot

The Siegel household is overflowing with food.

As I mentioned last week, following the funeral of my Mother In Law, we had a shiva call at the house.  Not one of those deeply religious shivas with covered mirrors, milk crates and 10 strange Jewish men reciting arcane Hebrew prayers.

This was more the West Los Angeles, Jewish Lite version with lots of blond shiksas and outrageously expensive catered deli foods. So much food in fact, that even the second fridge in the garage was overflowing.

In order to make room for all the corned beef and soggy cole claw, I decided to clear out and consolidate the main fridge. What I found were no less than 10 bottles of Hot Sauce. This is in addition to the always fruitful pepper plants in the garden, including Serrano, Habanero and Ghost.

All of which suggest I have an iron stomach. A little softer and pudgier on the outside than I'd like, but impenetrable like an old bank vault on the inside.

I developed this particular culinary affinity when I first moved to California. My roommate and I would chug beer, chase it with a shot of cheap Jim Beam and then challenge each other to chew on these tiny unspecified peppers that we bought from a little Mexican bodega on Sawtelle Blvd.

The peppers were brined and had a distinctive vinegary smell. That is until you bit into one and it unleashed its fury on lips, tongues and any nerve endings in sight. It was like willfully putting a live Wasp in your mouth.

Apart from the immediate dopamine rush, you might be wondering why we would subject ourselves to such pain?

The answer is simple and it is known to all who have a penchant for alcohol. It's the preventative cure for a hangover.

You can't wake up the next day overly concerned about the pounding in your head. Not when there's the more immediate and pressing agony in the 'southern hemisphere.'

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thank heaven for little girls

I read this article the other day or somebody sent it to me. To be frank, my memory as well as my resistance to a second beer with dinner, is long gone.

The article, in case you didn't bother to read it, claims that families with two daughters are the ideal family. Ideal, mind you, meaning better than any and all other possible combinations.

I must have hit the Fatherhood Jackpot because I have two daughters. Irish twins, actually born a mere 17 months apart.

The girls in the picture above are not mine ( and I've been warned by my wife not to post photos of my girls, particularly in light of my incendiary remarks regarding: religious people, advertising, politics, Taco Bell, douchebags, social media, CEO's, people with tattoos, or anyone who drives a car in a manner that would piss me off.

In other words, everybody on the planet.

According to the research, two daughters make for the most harmonious family. If only the author or the researchers had spent some time in my house. And watched the cat fights that erupted over time spent in the bathroom.

Or the heated discussions that have arisen about dirty dishes.

"I did the dishes."


"Last week."

Or the arguments that ensued over who cleaned up after the dog in the backyard.

"I already picked up the poop."

"You picked up all the small poops and left the big ones for me."

Hard to believe that one time I almost threw away all this harmony. You see, a few years after the girls were born, I felt myself yearning for a son. What father doesn't? And so with some disposable income in hand, my wife and I enlisted the aid of a fertility specialist who held out the promise of an XY embryo.

This was not at all unusual as we had to employ fertility methods for our first child. The second came naturally, because as one doctor noted, "the best cure for infertility is a pregnancy."

Using a specially-designed centrifuge, sperm containing the right genetic material for a male would be separated out and injected into fertile eggs. In this manner there were no discarded embryos or anything remotely unethical. We made several exorbitantly expensive attempts. And sadly, all were unsuccessful.

Which I suppose is a blessing. Otherwise our family would have consisted of two girls and one boy. And would have dropped us all the way down to #7 on the list.

Of course, it wasn't a total loss.
At the sperm collection center, I got to experience many of the excellent movies produced in nearby Chatsworth, including:

Balling for Dollars
In and Out of Africa
Cram Session 8
Pulp Friction
When Harry Ate Sally


In Diana Jones and the Temple of Poon

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Who ordered the Kosher meal?

I'm hungry.

You're reading this on Wednesday morning, but as I write this, it is Saturday morning, Yom Kippur, and I'm looking at a long, hot day of depriving myself of any food.

I don't know why I observe the traditions, well, some of the traditions, of my people.

As I've noted before I'm a militant atheist. There can be no God when the Syracuse Orangemen intercept a pass on the 32 yard line, march the ball down into the Red Zone and then fail to come away with a score.

And I'm not a big fan of Scripture. I don't need to get my morals and ethical guidance from an ancient goat herder who was willing to slay his son because he heard voices in his head. Or that an explosive locust infestation in Egypt was the work of the Almighty, King of King, Host of Hosts.

Particularly when the world view of that goat herder, and indeed most prophets of the time, was largely dependent on the drinking capacity and stamina of a smelly camel.

But, I abstain from food nonetheless.

More to honor my father, my father's father, and all those further down the family tree who took a beating from Cossacks, Prussians, Huns, Babylonians, et. al., just because of who they were.

Of course, that doesn't mean I give a pass to all the nonsense practiced by the more ardent members of my Tribe.

Take for instance the half-wit Hasid pictured above. In order to abide by commandment #591 set forth in the book of Ezekiel…

"Thou shalt not sit next to a woman on a Boeing 737-200, lest any of her menstrual juices contaminate thee"   

So before boarding his non-stop flight to Cincinnati, this fast-thinking zealot stopped by the airport kiosk selling large industrial-sized plastic bags, right next to the guy who sells Cinnabons, and found a unique way to do comply with the all-knowing wishes of Ezekiel.

Am I mocking? You're damned right I am mocking.

You see I have been given grief, on several occasions, about my relentless biting commentary towards Islam, the comedic gift that keeps giving. But for the record I've also had a few choice words about Christianity, the Trinity and the ubiquitous Nativity Scenes (for laughs you should go to the RoundSeventeen search box and look up Caganer.)

One anonymous reader has repeatedly taken me to task and requested that I lay some hurt on my own co-religionists.

And done.

The fact is there's nothing I enjoy more than taking potshots at Jews. It's like that old Seinfeld episode.
It's executive privilege. Plus it puts me on much safer ground. God knows I've already offended way too many people.

And now minutes before the kickoff of the Stanford game, I feel obliged to engage in some meaningful introspection. Which is difficult consider we won't be breaking out the bagels and the tuna fish salad for another 7.5 hours.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Listen Up People

Today I had planned to write about the recent flare up between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher/Sam Harris  discussing the topic of "Islamophobia."

But I'm postponing that.

For one thing I've covered the the topic before. Moreover, the issue of culture clash and extreme Islamic atrocities isn't going away anytime soon.

Instead I've made room for a more agreeable issue: the stewardship of the planet.

Agreeable in that no matter where you stand on climate change, and I know some very knowledgeable folks (including engineers and scienticians) who contest that notion,  no one disagrees with the idea of reducing pollutants, conserving our natural resources and taking better care of the planet.

Which is why I was so thrilled to receive a call from the Media Arts Lab and my old boss, Lee Clow.

They have been working tirelessly with Conservation International. And prepared a star-studded series of films, voiced by Harrison Ford, Kevin Spacey and Julia Roberts, that began running yesterday.

In addition to the films, Lee wanted to extend the campaign into social media. That's when my phone rang. Because when people think of social media, digital ninja-tude and being on the leading edge of culture, my name is usually the first in the Rolodex. (You kids can use The Google and to look up Rolodex.)

Actually I think my name came up because Lee enjoys my almost daily tweets about the adventures of gout-ridden North Korean Leader Kim Jung Un. And wanted to see if we could spark some similar magic in the Twittersphere.

Yesterday the campaign launched.

And I'm already seeing great press about it. I wish I was more involved with the making of the films, I wasn't, but I tip my hat to the creatives, the producers and all the agency people who put it together.

The social media aspect of the campaign has also started. If you click on over to Twitter, you should start following The Ocean, Mother Nature, Soil, Redwood and the others.

There you will find many tweets on behalf of Conservation International. And some of them are my handiwork.

Make a donation to CI.

Then follow, retweet, and start conversations.

Do it because it's the right thing to do for our planet. And, perhaps more importantly, an excellent and indirect way to defray the cost of my daughter's exorbitant out-of-state college tuition.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Oh Advertising, you amuse me

Last week was Advertising Week in New York City. And for the 29th year in a row, I was not in attendance.

As you might expect as a bona fide Kool-Aid hater, I'm not a big fan of conferences, confabs, symposiums, or any type of large gathering that might require me to pee in a stainless steel trough.

I have no interest in any activity that necessitates a printed schedule and wall-to-wall panels and forums.

6:45 --- 10 Reasons Why You're Not Flying Business Class

7:50 --- Sweat Shop Architecture, How to Maximize Profits by Minimizing Employee Footprint

8:35 --- Pizza, The Best and Least Expensive Way To Feed Overtime Workers

Now, I've got to tread lightly here.

Jerry Seinfeld recently gave a scathing speech at an advertising award show and was roundly criticized for his demeaning and snarky tone. He and I share many of the same views on the industry, though his perspective is quite different than mine.

He's a gazillionaire comedian who can afford to bite the hand that feeds him. Hell, if he wanted he could buy Omnicom and Publicis and stage Celebrity CEO Death Matches.

I also like to nibble on the hand that feeds me, but I'm a considerably less-wealthy freelance copywriter and can't afford to exacerbate the situation -- as Jerry did -- by also shitting on the victim's bloodied handless stump.

Truth is, advertising has been, and continues to be, very, very good to me. I've been able to make a decent living simply by being a wise ass. It's like I never left high school.

My problem with Advertising Week and all these expensive extravaganza's, and that includes SXSW, Cannes, etc., is the artifice of it all. It's the willful pretending that what we do, is not what we do.

We're not starting conversations.
No one in their right mind wants to have a conversation with Febreeze.

We're not giving brands a distinctive voice.
The voice of Burger King sounds remarkably like the voice of McDonalds. "Please come in and eat our processed meat-thingies."

And we're not making the world a better place.
15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.

For every ground shaking noteworthy campaign, like the rebirth of Apple or the meteoric rise of Old Spice, there are 10, 000 efforts, maybe 100,000, that made no one smile, cry, laugh, or think. They had zero powers of persuasion. In fact, because they were an insult on intelligence and so poorly crafted, it is more likely these campaigns dissuaded consumers.

You'll never see a panel on that.

The reality is, and 99% of my colleagues who work in the trenches and also never go to these "festivals" will agree, our business is about moving the merchandise.

So when the client says we need to find a better way to say, "There's never been a better time to visit your ________ dealer." 

We schedule meetings, do focus groups, write briefs, explore creative alternatives, and then we find a better way to say, "There's never been a better time to visit your ________ dealer." 

Or, we just go with what the client wanted.
That's the business we're in.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Semi-Pro Bono

Today marks the conclusion of Think Positive week.

I actually thought about not posting today which would have made this a short week. And would have been  a sly commentary on how little there is to be positive about. But as my pal and advertising doppelgänger George Tannenbaum says, sometimes we must just soldier on.

To make matters even more challenging, today I've decided to return to everyone's favorite RoundSeventeen topic, advertising.

But before I do, it should be noted that last month, for only the third time ever, web traffic topped
10,000 hits. Moreover, this was without the benefit of any material being reposted on agencyspy, who have chosen to no longer put up links to my blog.

I would have some choice words words for them, but this is Think Positive week and I want to remain on this uncharted High Road.

So what, you may be wondering, could I possibly have to say about advertising that might be even remotely considered positive?

Well, consider this, earlier this week I was asked to work on a project aimed at stopping the spread of the Ebola virus. That's right, somebody paid me good money to put on my thinking cap and, instead of shilling brown fizzy water or overpriced auto insurance, fire up ideas in service of something that could actually make a difference in this world.

That doesn't happen too often.
In fact, it happened twice.

Last week my old boss, and yes I am going to drop his name, Lee Clow, specifically sought me out to work on a pet project. I hadn't seen Lee in years and it was just like old times.

"Brian," he said to me, "I think you'll be perfect for this."

Lee's project, which I will detail at a later date when it is officially launched, has to do with climate change and pro-active environmentalism.

A day rate.
Two pro-bono assignments.
And the opportunity to atone for two decades worth of snarky shameless huckstering and the promotion of conspicuous consumption. I can't think of a better way to end Think Positive Week.

By the way, all you heartless cynics will be happy to know that next we will be returning to our unique brand of Jaded Bitterness and Negativity™.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thank You Marilyn

This is the chair my mother-in-law, Marilyn Weinblatt would sit in when she came to visit.

She won't be sitting in that seat any longer, as she passed away and as our new favorite rabbi put it, was "returned to the bosom of the earth." That phrasing will stick with me the rest of my days.

You might think that a deep, personal loss like this would put a crimp in this week's Think Positive theme.

But you'd be wrong.

The knowledgeable rent-a-rabbi, who, prior to the service was a complete stranger to all of us and came to us only at the behest of the quick-thinking funeral home, was a great source of wisdom and comfort. He quickly pointed out the passing of one's life is an opportunity for friends and family to be grateful.

No one could be more grateful than me.

I met Marilyn and Bob Weinblatt many years ago. In fact, it seems like it was in another lifetime despite my 44 years of age.

They were what I like to call "Nice Jews." They were from Minneapolis, and were unlike any of my shrill NY relatives who were fond of yelling, screaming, fighting and more yelling.

They had a strange, easy-to-be-around midwestern demeanor. And reminded me of the characters in the Coen Brothers, A Serious Man, which I will now have to watch again.

In essence, this denied me a great fount of humor. Because I never had the stereotypical overbearing mother-in-law.

Marilyn was never one to interfere. Or raise her voice. Or bust my balls in any way, shape or manner. Many a Borscht Belt comedian would have a field day with those kind of mother-in-laws. Thankfully, I did not.

Apart from the small profit she made on her apartment at Seizure World, or unless we find a secret stash of thousand dollar bills stuffed in a secret compartment of the case that contains her Mah Jong tiles, Marilyn was never wealthy. At least not in the conventional sense.

You see while she never had a stock portfolio or a held titles to various real estate properties, she had something more valuable. She had the pride of raising 4 incredible daughters, the sweetest, most kind-hearted women I've ever had the pleasure to meet. And I had the good fortune and foresight to marry one of them.

From that branch of the family tree, which is now thankfully part of my family tree, sprung 8 equally caring grandchildren and one recently born great grandchild. To spend any time with them is to know laughter, joy and love.

In short, Marilyn left this world a little nicer, a little sweeter, and a little better than the world she was born into.

In my book, that's about the noblest any of us could hope for.

One more thing to be grateful for, in the wake of this weekend's incredibly attended funeral, with family and friends from all across the country, there was a truckload of leftover corn beef, pastrami and Jewish Deli cookies.

In Marilyn's honor, I'm going to make sure it all gets eaten.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

No worse for the curse

Some of you will recognize this as the poster image for Poltergeist, a movie about a family that moves into a new family housing project built on top of an ancient Indian burial ground. 

The ghosts of the Indians are not happy, though they never seemed to get upset with the construction of the nearby Chick Filet or Best Buy, and decide to wreak havoc on the family. 

The movie was one the first major successes for a young writer by the name of Steven Spielberg.

It was also my first major contact with Hollywood people. 

You see, at the time of the movie's release I was managing the kitchen for a booming restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd. It was a cowboy-themed Steak & Rib House with sawdust on the floor and a mechanical bull sitting center stage.

It was here that I developed a healthy appreciation for any kind of music that wasn't country western. 

In order to supplement the sometimes-sagging restaurant revenue, the owner rented the space out for private parties. Our first was the wrap party for Poltergeist. It was a night to remember. I met the Director, the Producers and the entire cast. 

Little did I know, that like the characters they played in the film, their time on Earth was limited.

To date, the curse has only struck cast members and not those tangentially affiliated with the movie, like the fat guy from NY (me) who made the ribs and steak and gourmet macaroni and cheese. 

And in keeping with this week's theme (see yesterday's post), that's the positive spin of today's story. 

If anything, my life has been blessed. With a beautiful wife, two smart and sassy daughters, a home, a job, and friends and family that for some unknown reason are willing to put up with my shit. 

No Poltergeist Curse here.

I have to cut this posting short. My wife was just about to take a bath and she told me the lightbulb above the tub needs changing... 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Good Morning

There's a meme (I still can't figure out how to pronounce that word) floating around the Internet that goes something to the effect of 'Try to live a week of your life without complaining.'

The thinking goes, that if you refrain from the negative and surround yourself with positive energy, the world will return the favor with all its incumbent blessings.

I don't know if that's true.

I'm hardly a spiritual being.

In fact, I'd describe myself as a good-hearted nihilist, an oxymoron in anyone's book.

I don't subscribe to the belief in energy fields. Or Karma. Or other dimensions other than what the scientists can see and measure. And Neil Degrasse Tyson can squeeze onto a TV show.

However, we are in the middle of the High Holy Days and, despite the contention of my wife, I'm always up for trying new things. Particularly if it involves spicy food. Or anything from pages 39-54 of the Adam and Eve catalogue.

Is this going to be easy? It most assuredly will not.

If nothing else, this blog is a constant conveyor belt of non-stop grumbling and grousing, carping and kvetching. Topped off by our new tagline, voted on by 9 loyal readers:

RoundSeventeen, No artificial sweeteners.

But here's something you didn't know about me. I'm a closeted optimist.

This never ceased to amaze my old partner, John Shirley. Faced with daunting odds, myopic clients and shoestring budgets, I always felt we could muscle through any situation and come up with a winning solution. Always.

"When we're shooting this spot in London with Frederick Bond, it'll be great."

John would roll his eyes and start telling me about the last Simpsons episode he watched and why every town needed a Monorail.

In any case, in light of the recent success we've enjoyed with our four part series and our themed weeks, the next few days will adhere to a strict "Think Positive" motif.

With uplifting stories.
Kinder, gentler anecdotes.
Cuddly puppies.
And fresh cut sunflowers.

It's probably gonna suck.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tag it.

Like yesterday's post, today we are also using a misleading picture.

I stumbled across this visual and thought it was too good to pass up. Besides, it's marginally related to today's topic.


You see it's Rosh Hashana.

Happy New Year to all my fellow members of the Tribe.

In the dreary spirit of long drawn out synagogue services, worthless Bible stories about goat herders begetting other goat herders, and the outrageously festive ritual of dipping brown apple slices in honey that has been sitting in the back of the refrigerator shelf since March Madness, it's also that time of year when we discard the old RoundSeventeen tagline and usher in the new one.

The more astute readers will recognize this as one of my trusty fallbacks. That is, an easy way to squeeze out a post when there is nothing much else to write about.

I've employed this trick several times in the past. And to be completely honest, this week I'm feeling a little melancholy because we just dropped our oldest daughter off at college and the emptiness in the house is still quite palpable.

But the funny must go on.

So without further ado, here are your tagline options which I know you will not vote on:

RoundSeventeen. Now with 23% more cynicism.

RoundSeventeen. No shirt, no shoes, no snark.

RoundSeventeen. Irrelevant and built to stay that way.

RoundSeventeen. Your daily dose of self-immolation.

RoundSeventeen. I can't believe I get paid to write this stuff. Oh wait, I don't.

RoundSeventeen. 500 words of fresh jackoffery.

RoundSeventeen. When there's nothing good on BuzzFeed.

RoundSeventeen. A literary exercise in underachievement.

RoundSeventeen. We don't do revisions.

RoundSeventeen. No artificial sweeteners.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Vocational Viagra

This is a post about job title inflation. It's not the first time I've written about it and it probably won't be the last, as it is a major pet peeve.

While doing an image search for this post I came across an article with the 30 worst examples of job title inflation. At the top of the list was Erection Engineer. That title was accompanied by the picture you see above. 

It's admittedly click bait, but I've never given you any reason to believe I'm above that.

Weeks ago, you might recall, I promoted myself to Chairmen of the Rich Siegel Worldwide organization. First, because we can never have too many chairmen in this world. And secondly, to point out the ridiculous nature of workplace nomenclature.

The fact of the matter is I'm a copywriter.

I don't need any further Orwellian newspeak attached to that title in order to impress anybody. And frankly when I come across people who roll out the Senior Vice President or Chief Officer or Executive Group Blah Blah Blah, I'm not impressed. 

If anything I'm unimpressed -- there should be a better word for that -- I'm depressed.

In my fantasy utopian world where everything I say is right and everyone who thinks otherwise is not, I would roll back all this title nonsense. 

Let's say a kid graduates from one of the outrageously expensive advertising schools littered throughout the land. And let's say he or she wants to pursue a career in copywriting. And let's say he or she is genuinely talented but still has a long way to go. And let's take this theoretical situation even further and say he or she had the goods to get immediately hired.

The first job out of the box should be Apprentice Copywriter. Because let's face it, he or she knows nothing about how ads are done in the real world.

With a few banner ads and FSI's under the belt, the first promotion should be to Junior Assistant Copywriter.

In a year's time, maybe two, and the writing of some solid emails blasts, internal videos and sizzle pieces, the word Junior can magically disappear.

Maybe the stars aligned and our talented aspiring writer managed to knock out a case study or even a radio spot or a print ad, then our Assistant Copywriter can proudly call home and start adjusting the linkedin page to include Associate Copywriter.

Finally, after earning some industry cred and earning the respect (and jealousy) of others, then, and only then, would he or she be given the title of Copywriter. 

It's title deflation. 

Not only is it more logical, it prevents those uncomfortable new business meetings when the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation is seated next to a 26-year old tattooed, pierced, keffiyeh-wearing clod who goes by the title, Senior EVP Group Content Curation Prophet.

At this point it should come as no surprise that I have equally strong feelings about who should and shouldn't be able to call themselves a Chief Creative Officer. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Greatest Job on Earth

I've written often about the many shitty jobs I've held throughout my career.

I was an industrial pot washer at a hospital.
I drove a forklift.
I put in time as a landscaper.

And of course, I've toiled for many years as a copywriter. In fact recently I devoted a whole week's worth of postings detailing my less-than-ideal travails working with Taco Bell. (Web traffic almost doubled last week so you can be sure there will be more 4-part series in the future.)

Today, we're going in the other direction.

When I was a junior in college I decided to go it on my own. I would declare complete financial independence. By omitting my parents monetary support for an entire year, I would be eligible for much-needed financial assistance in my final senior year.

Of course to do that I couldn't get by on the $3.62 cents an hour job I had washing dishes at Brockway Dining Hall.

Fortunately, my father knew a guy. Actually he knew two guys, both of whom had exceedingly Italian last names. And were possibly made men. They managed a new bar on campus named Sutter's Mill.

It was rumored that the bar was nothing more than a front to launder cash. Those of you who've watched Breaking Bad know exactly what I'm talking about.

In any case, Sal called Tony, Tony called Paulie, Paulie called Vinnie, Vinnie called Joey, who wasn't anywhere to be found (if you know what I mean), so then Vinnie called Angie. I had never poured drinks before but none of that seemed to matter.

Next thing you know I'm sporting a Sutter's Mill Polo Shirt and I'm standing behind a bar in close proximity to the two things I enjoyed most: alcohol and women.

Moreover I was coming home every night with a thick wad of cash that reeked of cigarette smoke but was legal tender nonetheless. Even more importantly, Uncle Sam never saw a dime.

Wait, it gets better.

Sutter's Mill quickly became the most popular bar on campus. The bosses knew that to maintain that fun atmosphere, the employees needed to look like they were having fun. Every hour, on the hour, the bar manager, Richard, a 6 foot 6 inch rail thin black guy who came to work in a shirt and tie and a leather cowboy hat would ring a bell, stop everything and pour shots of Yukon Jack for all the bartenders on duty.

You think that's a college student dream job? You haven't heard the best part.

We packed it in every night and because the drinking age in New York State was 11 years old at the time, we had our fair share of brawling. We also had a team of menacing bouncers that could have and should have been playing on the front line for the lowly Syracuse Orangemen.

These guys were big, beefy and itching for the opportunity to earn their keep.

All of which gave me an unwarranted sense of bravado and power.

Power which I'm ashamed to admit I abused with great regularity. Whether it was rescuing a coed from some unwanted suitor or cutting off a guy because he had too much to drink or simply because I didn't like the cut of his jib, I could always appear braver than I had a right to.

"Gimme a Moosehead."

"No, you're done."

"Oh yeah, who says so?"

"I said so."

With one quick glance to the rare exit door, a bouncer would appear on the scene.

"Is there a problem here?"

And there never was.

If only there were bouncers in advertising.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Case of the Found $50,000

Last week, my east coast doppelgänger George Tannenbaum told a great story about his grandfather, Morris, the worst tailor on the face of the Earth.

As is often the case, his Hebraic recollections of growing up in the Bronx, and in NY at large, fuel stories of my own.

My grandfather was also from the old country. Though when I speak with the few remaining relatives that are still among us, that old country always seems to change.

Sometime it's Poland and sometimes it's nearby shtetl's of Russia, Belarus or Ukraine.

The confusion is understandable as even today those borders are fluid at best.

They're also meaningless.

These were all ugly, cold, dirty villages populated by poor Jews who did their best to keep food on the table and keep out of the way of local, drunken goyim bent on beating up members of the tribe. I suppose it was a way to make them feel better about their own miserable lives.

So the beat up Jews got on a boat and came to America where they could get pounded on by a higher class of drunk.

Unskilled and uneducated, my grandfather drove a cab in NYC. I don't know how he afforded a hack license, as they were very expensive, but he did. And he made a living. Enough to sustain a family of three boys as well as the care and feeding of many racehorses at the Belmont track in Queens.

Once, the old man -- a sedentary chain smoker with an appetite for fatty creamed herring -- was staying at our house. He was recovering from his 7th heart attack, that's right 7, we Jews might have been defenseless against Cossacks but we can kick the shit out of cardiac arrest.

We happened to be watching TV story about a NYC cab driver who returned a briefcase with $50,000 in cash to its rightful owner. The cabbie was given a hearty Thank You and a crisp hundred dollar bill in return for his honesty and good will.

During a commercial break for Rheingold the dry beer, Rheingold is my beer, think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer, I turned to my grandfather.

"Would you have done that? Would you have called back the owner to get his briefcase full of money?"

"Absolutely," he replied.

Explaining, if some business guy was in my cab and I saw that he just left a briefcase with fifty thousand dollars in the back seat, I'd grab the case immediately.

Then, as he was walking away, I'd roll up my window. I'd grab a fluffy towel, fold it nicely and put it up against the window.

Then I would knock on that fluffy towel.

And if he didn't hear the knock, I would knock even harder.

He made the slightest tapping gesture.

Then, if he didn't hear me pounding my knuckle on the towel pressed lightly against the glass, I'd shout.

"Hey mister you forgot your briefcase full of cash," he whispered.

Like this and I repeated his whisper.

"Oh no, that's way too loud. Like this," he replied. "Hey mister…" 

In a voice that was impossible to hear.

Of course, nobody with a briefcase of cash ever got in my grandfather's cab. And I doubt he ever got within a mile of that much money.

So his menschiness was never put in question.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Taco Hell, Part Four -- Is She Clean?

(Sandee Westgate, John Shirley, Woman with inappropriate midriff, Rich Siegel -photoshopped in)

(The fourth in a four part series detailing our 2001 descent into Taco Hell. At this point I should remind the reader this story happened 14 years ago and has no bearing on today's Taco Bell or their ad agency where I am frequently brought in as a freelancer. No bearing whatsoever.)

So by now, I hope I've painted a pretty vivid picture of a huge fast food account (Taco Bell) at the very end of its incredibly successful, though often bumpy, relationship with its advertising agency (Chiat/Day).

They knew they were shopping elsewhere.
We knew they were shopping elsewhere.
And despite the smiles, the overly-firm handshakes and the sugar-coated conference reports we were all simply going through the motions.

Nevertheless we were professionals.

And in the face of incredible odds actually managed to get one more spot with Gidget the chihuahua. Perhaps as a testament to Chuck Bennett and Clay Williams, the guys who put so much heart and effort into the campaign, this last Gidget spot still produces a smile.

It was written and art directed by John Payne and Gary Pascoe, two of the most talented guys to ever come through Chiat/Day.

My only contribution as Creative Director was selling it, reselling it and bringing it back to the table every time the client threatened to pull the plug.

Yesterday, I teased the conclusion of this story with the promise of Internet porn sensation, Sandee Westgate (seen above in black top).

We met her, along with hundreds of other impossibly-built aspiring models/actresses, at a casting session that can only be described as grueling. The script called for two hot women hand feeding Chalupas to one of our Road Trip guys in a sensual-but-safe-for-TV fantasy.

The women were only on screen for 4 seconds, but in the mind of my partner John Shirley and I, and every other male involved with the production, those 4 seconds were crucial.

With the wrong cast, the fantasy simply wouldn't look very authentic.

One 10 hour casting session turned into two. Two turned into three. And when we found out the production office was located near Roku Sushi, we thought why not go the extra mile and make this search as comprehensive as possible.

Because as I mentioned before, we were professionals.

Having made our thorough selections, we presented Sandee and her colleague to the Taco Bell clients.

They gave us their approval immediately. With one stipulation. They wanted both women to be completed vetted. They ran a fine upstanding organization with high morals and wanted to make sure the actors and actresses who represented Taco Bell were of the same caliber.

Thankfully, they were.

That was 14 years ago. If you were to Google Sandee Westgate, and I know that you will, you'd see she has successfully ridden this Internet thingie to success.

I don't think Taco Bell's business has changed much. I have to believe their core audience is still 14-17 year old boys. And sometimes those boys (the HFFU's for those of you in the biz) even get the Munchies. In essence, they're the same pimply faced guys that frequent Carl's Jr.

We know how Carl's successfully married the notions of horny and hungry, albeit in a very soft core manner with nothing racier than anything you might see on Skinemax.

What if Taco Bell were to take it to the next level? And make Sandee their new national spokesperson to capitalize on her digital prowess.

For one thing they'd have a much better chance of having something go viral. And furthermore, I'm willing to bet those same boys would be lining at the store waiting to get their hands on a Crunchy Gordita.

Well, at least their left hand.

Now that's Living Mas.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taco Hell, Part Three -- Phoenix in August

(The third in a four part series detailing my 2001 descent into Taco Hell)

With our concepts thoroughly scrubbed and approved, including a frame-by-frame storyboard that mapped out each of the thirty seconds -- a new height in anal retentiveness -- and our five demographically-correct actors properly cast, it was time to take to the road.

Of course, the premise of the campaign was a road trip so that made sense.

But it was also a point of necessity. You see, in the summer of 2001, the Screen Actor's Guild was on strike. Moreover, they were actively seeking Los Angeles-based shoots to disrupt and shut down.

So we, the agency, cast and crew, boarded a plane for Phoenix.

I don't know if there's a good time to be in Phoenix.
It's brown, ugly and hellishly hot.
I do know if someone were to make a list of the top ten months to be in Phoenix, August would not be among them.

How hot was it?
While passing by a restaurant with outdoor seating, we saw the workers applying 50 SPF sunscreen to the patio furniture.

Not only was the asphalt road hot enough to fry an egg on (I know because we did) it was hot enough to grill and blacken the chicken that egg came from.

Satan has a satellite office in Phoenix, right off West Yuma Road, across the street from the Subway sandwich shop.

The plan was to tech scout and shoot 5 commercials over a 17 day period that included many 12-14 hour shoots. That was a significant chunk of my summer. I thought, well at least I'll be at a nice hotel.

Again, this shows you how stupid and naive I could be in the age of the emerging holding company ad agency.

Our fully loaded van left the airport, we passed a bank, flashing the brutal 114 degree temperature, and 20 minutes later arrived at the front of the Phoenix Park Motor Inn.

If you're thinking it looks less like a hotel and more like an old nursing home, you'd be right on the nose. Because it was an old nursing home.

I don't know about you but I'm a little picky about where I lay my head down at night. I had no intention of spending my last days at Chiat/Day where, figuratively and literally, folks were spending their last days gasping for their last breaths of oxygen.

My inner Diva took over and I told the producer I wasn't going to be holed up for 17 sweaty nights in God's waiting room, a room that smelt of adult diapers and industrial-strength vitamins.

Particularly knowing that these cost cutting measures were put in place to maximize profits for our holding company overlords in their 5th Ave., 10 million dollar,  four-level town homes.

And I certainly wasn't going to do it in the service of an ungrateful, ball-pinching client, the kind of tighty-whitey wearing people who'd bring a Bible to a bachelor party.

So we, my art director John Shirley and I, moved.
To a hotel just down the street, where our Director, Jonathon David, was staying.
The hotel/resort was designed by some famous architect, I believe his name was Frank Lloyd Wright.

Sensing our imminent demise at the agency and saddled with an unstable account, John and I spent the next fortnight on a vigilant crusade to max out our per diem's. Employing our wits and our 500 miles away-from-home charm, we did everything we could to outfox the production accountants.

We really owe a huge debt of gratitude to Taco Bell and the mother company, YUM. They put us through a bit of hell but the shareholders rewarded us with a little bit of heaven.

We started every day with the room service breakfast, not with the $12 pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice that easily serves 4, but the larger $22 pitcher, because the remaining orange juice in its beautiful Waterford decanter looked so nice against the rising desert sun.

We smoked cuban cigars, hand selected from the hotel's secret humidor.

And we drank mojitos made with rum imported not from Jamaica or the sugar canes of Hispaniola, but from the far reaches of Eastern Madagascar, not because it was better but simply because it was more expensive.

Mmmmm, Madagascar.

There's a statute of limitations on creative financial skullduggery, isn't there?

Tomorrow: Don't miss the conclusion of the Taco Hell adventure, including the on-set appearance of Internet Porn Sensation, Sandee Westgate.