Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Decapitated Arthur the Rat Doll

When I hear people saying, "It's a sign from above" or "The Lord is speaking to me", my initial reaction is typically, "that cheeseburger looks good" or "did you see the Golden State Warrior game?"

I just can't listen to that stuff.

The universe is so massive in its unknowable scale it seems so egotistical to believe it has gone out of its way to tap you on the shoulder. Frankly, I'd prefer God feed hungry kids in Africa or free women from their patriarchal masters in the Mideast than to be wasting time with cryptic messages.

However, and here is the turn, last Friday I found myself gobsmacked while returning home from my hike up the Baldwin Hills Overlook.

First some context.

In three months, my youngest daughter will be shipping off to Boulder as a freshman at the University of Colorado. A week after that, my oldest daughter will be returning to the University of Washington for her second year.

My wife and I will be Empty Nesters.

Not full fledged empty nesters because the girls will still be coming home for holidays and summers. They'll bring home dirty laundry, clog up the toilets and leave their shit all around the house. I can't wait.

But I'd be lying if I didn't say the prospect of both girls being out of the house is not a source of anxiety.

Of course, I'm proud but can't help drifting into melancholic nostalgia.

When the girls were younger, much younger, they enjoyed Arthur the Rat (pictured above). We had Arthur books, Arthur VHS tapes and even Arthur CD's. My oldest Rachel, would sit for hours on end in the kitchen, glued to a laptop and reciting the alphabet along with Arthur.

By 18 months she was identifying the magnetic letters stuck on our old white refrigerator.

Arthur the Rat means as much to me as it does to the girls.

Well, you can imagine how I felt when, after notching 17,000 steps on my Jawbone and ascending the Baldwin Hills Stairs four times, I came across this by the park pavillion:

A decapitated Arthur the Rat doll with a reindeer headband.

It's as if the Cosmos was telling me, "your children are not children anymore. They're on their own now. Time to move on to the next stage of your life. It's time to let go."

Then again, that cheeseburger does look good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When Hate is Good.

How do I know an idea is good?

I know it, when someone hates it.

Last week I was driving to the Sport Chalet in Marina del Rey. On the way home, on picturesque Alla Drive, there is a Focus Group facility. The same facility I used to attend with great regularity, when I was a staffer. The same facility, where thanks to my big, unfiltered mouth, I cavalierly blew $25,000 worth of BBDO research money.

We were conducting two groups and testing some concepts we were going to pitch in a heavily contested battle for LA Cellular, a large and now defunct telecom.

The first group was a disaster. Of Hindenburgian proportion.

Before the second group commenced, I went to get some much needed coffee. As I was refilling my cup, I turned to the moderator and blurted:

"Send in the next bunch of losers."

Unaware, perhaps, that the next bunch of losers were sitting in the adjacent room. The room with the open door. The room that was filled with people who could hear the cap being torn off the little creamer and poured into my awaiting cup. Yeah, those losers.

The night didn't end well.
Our ideas for the pitch didn't go well.
And my short stint at BBDO grew even shorter.

You might assume from this little anecdote that I have no love for Focus Groups. And I don't. But in hindsight I know the problem isn't about research. It's about how clients interpret research.

Let's say Concept A is shown to a group of folks who have nothing better to do on a Tuesday night than to sit with a bunch of demographically similar people and judge prospective TV commercials which they will dutifully fast forward through on their DVRs. And let's say 90% of the group likes Concept A. And 10% of the group doesn't like it.

Let's also say that these same people, who seem very content with crappy lasagna and free M&M's are shown Concept B.

The response here is more visceral. 60% of the group hates it and would, if they could, throat punch the creators of the Concept B until they begged for mercy. The other 40% of the group love the idea and might even consider tweeting about it.

Well, marketing executives are like Doomsday Preppers. They will do anything to insure their survival.

So when it comes time to decide, they're going with their mortgages, their private school tuitions and their $299 a month lease payments on their new Lexus GS; they're going with Concept A.

After all, 90% of the people polled liked it. You can't argue with that. If my phone were 90% charged or my daughter got a 90% on a history test or my brake pads still had 90%, I'd be thrilled.

But in the arena of mass communication, of breaking through the clutter, of intentionally polarizing people in order to get a reaction or influence behavior, a tepid 90% is 100% wrong.

If it were up to me, and for a thousand good reasons it never is, I'd go with Concept B. Or, to misquote John Lennon, "Hate is all we need."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Never Go Half Ass

In light of mergers, acquisitions and unholy alliances with unholy holding companies, Jay Chiat presciently asked, "How big can we get before we get bad?"

I left Chiat/Day in 2002, when that question was starting to be answered.


I landed a job at Young & Rubicam in Irvine, California. At the time I thought (perhaps snobbishly) I had left the Big Show and was being sent down to the minors. This was not so much a reflection on Y&R as it was on my alma mater. After all, at the time, Chiat/Day was filled with rock stars.

Actually, I never refer to anyone in the business as a rock star, that is way too pretentious (see also: affectation, summer scarves, nose rings, gauged ears, tattooed sleeves, riding boots and handlebar mustaches).

Colleagues of mine who call themselves, or anyone else in the industry, rock stars need to recognize they simply create advertising that people hate less than other advertising.

In any case, I found myself behind the Orange Curtain with a bunch of young creatives, who had talent, but not necessarily the work ethic needed to make a name for themselves. The most difficult part of my job, other than the 110 mile daily commute, was to import some of that famed Chiat/Day culture and kick some ass.

I must have had some success.

Because 10 years later I ran into one of the kids who worked for me.

"Rich, I owe you a debt of gratitude. You once called me lazy. You said I never followed thru, didn't push myself and sleep-walked thru my job. At the time I cursed you under my breath. But years later I started understanding what you were getting at. Then, I started getting it. Then I started winning awards and getting promoted. I just wanted to say thank you."

Holy shit, I thought,  at least I did one thing right. This kid is now a big time Group Creative Director. Maybe if he spots this blatant pandering he'll bring me in for a gig.

All of which is a longwinded way of getting to a pleasant experience that happened not too long ago.

My partner and I were asked to supervise some juniors working on a project. At the very last minute, and because of some fluid logistics, we had to ask a young woman to step in and knock out some headlines and body copy. In the time it takes me to drive to the gym, slip into my Speedo, swim a mile, shower and race back to work, she had risen to the task. And done so with grace.

No drama.
No trauma.
She just knocked that shit out.

I won't embarrass her by sharing her name publicly, but sometime in the future you will know the name. In fact, if her drive and professionalism are any indication, it'll be painted on the door of her own agency.

Monday, May 25, 2015

I'm a Comment Creator

Ever bite into a piece of tin foil?

That's hitting a nerve you never want to hit. The sting and the metallic aftertaste can last for hours. Even writing about biting into tin foil makes me cringe.

Last week I hit a similar nerve.

The Huffington Post published my admittedly-hyperbolic, sexualized rant about Pit Bulls and boy did that send Pitties (people who love pit bulls) to their keyboards. Amassing more than 1400 Facebook likes and more than 260 comments, many of them dripping with venom.

And idiocy, a lot of idiocy.

I don't watch the Jimmy Kimmel show but I do love the segments where stars read aloud the mean tweets written about them. So in that similar spirit of self-evisceration, I'd like to share some of the more noteworthy missives.

Angela C. Mayorga wasted no time and defaulted to immediate name-calling:

She might want to invest in some well placed commas. I might have written it as : Newsflash dumbass, dogs barks, not just pit bulls.

Julee Davis from Liberal, Kansas, took a wholly intolerant view and suggested I amend my sleeping schedule.

She also suggested, ironically, that I was clueless. It's a free country Julee, I should be able to go to bed whenever I choose.

EJ Acosta also resorted to name calling, labeling me a horse's arse. EJ took issue with whom I choose to drag into my 44-year old married man fantasies:

He cluelessly added that I talk my inconsiderate neighbor into paying for obedience classes. He even whipped out the ALL CAPS, which can only indicate that he is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT in the RIGHT.

If you were to scroll through all the comments, and there are some doozies, you'd notice that I did not respond to any of them. This is very uncharacteristic of me, as there is nothing I enjoy more than a good battle of wits.

Correction, I did choose to engage one commenter, whose profile picture, fetching green bikini and lack of grammatical finesse just begged for a response. And so I generously put my two cents in and threw three carefully chosen words onto the fiery online conversation.

It's been four days now and Victoria has still not responded to my FaceBook Friend request.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pit Bullshit

Over the course of the past two weeks I have been noticeably grumpy.

That is, grumpier than my normal self.

I've had my "reasonability" questioned, by my wife.
And I've been called "somewhat abrasive", by my neighbor.

And so I feel compelled to take my case to the court of public opinion.

Granted I've been known to embellish in the past, mostly for literary purposes, but today I will do my best to present the facts. And only the facts.

My next door neighbor, whose house is a mere 10 feet from mine, is the proud keeper of two pit bulls. I know there are many of you who will jump to the defense of this maligned breed and point out their inherit good naturedness.

I'll have none of that Pit Bullshit.

Two years ago I was walking my dog, a sweet, neutered golden retriever mix, past my neighbor's house. One of his monsters…er, pit bulls, lunged through the front screen door and made a beeline for my Nellie. In an instant, he had his jaws locked around her neck. If it weren't for some well-placed kicks, I would be an ex-dog owner.

Suffice to say, I have no love for these carnivorous creatures.

In the past few weeks, the dogs, who bark the minute they are out the door, have been doing their morning business earlier and earlier.

6:30 AM.

6:00 AM.

You get the picture.

Last Saturday, they were barking, right outside my bedroom window, at 5:30 AM!!!

That's a good hour before sunrise. At 5:30 AM I'm usually in the thick of a good Charlize Theron dream.

Clearly it was time for the Come-to-Jesus meeting with my neighbor (and not the first mind you), who was initially evasive about the problem ("the dog was sick", "the tree rats and squirrels drive the dogs crazy" and "my wife let the dog out by accident").

The conversation was civil and it ended with him apologizing and saying it wouldn't happen again.

Two days later, while Megan Fox was nibbling on my ear lobe and whispering words best left unsaid, the dog was out again.

This time at 5:00 AM in the morning!

At my wits end, I decided to go to DefCon2.

I went to the Culver City website and printed out a copy of the local noise ordinances which, and I quote, prohibit "any nuisance or noises between the hours of 11 PM and 8 AM." I mailed my neighbor a copy, with the implicit message that should the situation continue I would be forced to take the situation to the police or the animal control people.

He didn't like my course of action. Imagine that.


Yeah, how unreasonable of me to think I should be able to sleep in my own bed, in my own house, on my own damn schedule.

Somewhat Abrasive?

Tell you what. I'll wake you up after 4 groggy hours of sleep and the rudely broken promise of gymnastic celebrity sex, and see if you're ready to appear with the Johnny Mann Singers on the next episode of Stand Up and Cheer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Metrics Don't lie

Years ago, ADWEAK broke on the scene.

Each week it would take potshots at the industry and skewer the nonsense that takes place in agencies from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon.

It was an instant hit. Mostly because in the days before AgencySpy, it gave voice to the incredible frustration and discontent of those of us toiling for the man.

Naturally, because the picture of the Editor was a burly, hairy man in front of a swimming pool, I fielded a lot of calls assuming I was behind the sedition.

I was not.
And I am not.

The guy in the picture has 100 lbs. on me.
And I've seen better mustaches on women.

However, I am friends with the guys who started ADWEAK and I know this was not an accident. Nevertheless I enjoyed their antics then. And I enjoy them now.

The website hasn't been active for about ten years. Instead, the ADWEAK gents ply their wares on Twitter.

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but the new format has allowed them to be even funnier. Because now they can move at the speed of sound. They can spit out the funny faster than a project manager can arrange a week's worth of creative check-ins.

Last week, my ADWEAK buddies ran a little experiment and wanted to see if adding a link to this blog could produce additional web traffic.

It did. On both ends.

I had a noticeable jump.
And they had measurable increases in engagement, views and click-thrus. Of course we're just a bunch of freelance copywriters and have no idea what to make of the any of that. But visuals of fast-rising unexpected vertical spikes (insert Cialis joke here) make us happy:

All of which brings to a point that Bob Hoffman often makes on his blog, the Adcontrarian  -- and by the way, if you're not currently enjoying Bob's unique brand of curmudgeonly goodness, you ought to be.

The people who are making the most of the new digital platforms, the ones telling stories, making things, and commanding attention in the new emerging arena, are not the ones using artisanal beard wax or sporting man-buns or $1000 stingy-brim fedoras.

We're the people pundits will tell you have lost touch with the business and can't keep up with the social media dominated world.

The ones that need to move on.

You might know us by a different name -- the Dinosaurs.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Lawnmower Man

It's been argued, by people a lot smarter than me (7 billion plus), that everything that happens to us, every little detail, every meal, every shower, every employee review, every passed kidney stone, has been faithfully recorded on the hard drive that is our brain.

All we have to do is figure out how to connect the synapses in the right manner in order to access these long forgotten memories.

I think there's something to this.

Last week, for instance, my partner Robert Prins and I were working on an assignment. Somehow we started talking about riding lawn mowers. And then, somehow again, I began thinking of my newspaper delivery days back in Suffern, NY.

Having a newspaper delivery route is like having a special set of X-ray glasses with which to see the neighborhood in ways few people will ever know.

In bedroom communities, neighbors might have passing conversations with the folks to their immediate left and right. And perhaps, because of the kids playing softball at the nearby school, parents might get together for the occasional BBQ or X-mas party.

But as a teenage newspaper delivery boy I had close, sometimes too intimate, contact with not one, two or even five of the neighborhood families, I had a special peak into the lives of 47 Suffernites.



There were rumored Mafia families on my route.

There was closeted homosexuals on my route.

There was even the family of an ex-NFL football player. They had a pair of boys, 7 and 9 years old, who were to destruction what Islamic terrorists are to intolerance. They had a penchant for fire, sledgehammers and circular saws, and would break shit up just for the sake of breaking shit up.

If YouTube had been around back then, I have no doubt these two would be Internet stars.

And then there was one house occupied by a family, whose name I shall not speak.

The mom and dad were in their 50's and they had a son in his late teens. These were not people who did much socializing. It was rumored that the father collected Nazi memorabilia. The fact that they kept two vicious, and often snarling, German Shepherds did little to dissuade me of that belief.

I never relished collection days and the times I would have to interact with these neighborhood fascists. More often than not, I was greeted at the door by their son, who in many ways resembled Private Lawrence from Full Metal Jacket. A big hulking man, who was never quite all there.

Mind you, this was long before the hipster era, but at 19 tender years of age, he was fond of wearing a Sherlock Holmes hat. Also, he smoked a pipe. He also never obtained a driver's license. That however, was never going to stop him.

Because on days when the need for speed kicked in, my Private Lawrence would fire up the Sears 17.5 horsepower riding lawn mower, tool up and down the street at full throttle, and look about as happy as a pipe-smoking, Sherlock Holmes cap-wearing, son of a Naziphile could ever possibly look.

I have no idea where this young man is these days, but I'd like to thank him for that searing memory.

If I ever get another newspaper route, I will gladly offer up the first three weeks for free.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Made Men

Today I will be conspicuously silent when it comes to office chatter. Because today, everybody is talking about last night's big finale of Mad Men.

It seems like every one of my colleagues is a devotee of the show.

I am not.

In fact, I haven't watched it at all and have no opinion as to the demise or the rise of Don Draper.

I should correct myself, I watched the very first episode. But only because I had to. I was hired to work on promos for the launch of the show, which I was sure wouldn't make it past the first season. In my line of work, I've seen so many pilot episodes of shows that never went anywhere.

Top Plumber -- who will be America's supreme poopie cleaner-upper.

Ventriloquist Island -- 10 puppet masters land on the isle, only one will remain.

Breakfast Nation -- we'll sit down with real Americans, who have real problems, who like real pop tarts.

In any case, I never jumped on the Mad Men train. I have a buddy who worked on the show as an advertising consultant, so I'm not going to trash it, but it seemed all about the clothing, the personal angst and the comical up and down romances.

I have a wife and two daughters, I don't need any more of that.

Besides, I like my shows about advertising the way I like my sushi: raw and adventurous, with the potential for violent hurling.

To me at least, Mad Men had little to do with the realities of the ad world, which as the title of this piece as well as previous posts indicates, has become more and more like the Mafia. A ruthless money-making enterprise designed to line the pockets of greedy white men.

If I'm going to watch a show about the industry I've seen commoditized, digitized and declawed to the point where shitty work is celebrated and jargon-slinging posers are worshipped as prophets, I'll turn to one of the premium pay per view networks like Showtime.

Where the language is unrestricted.
Where death, suffering and the meaningless of life are explored.
And where true insight comes bursting from the television in delightful, and oh-so-true, fits of rage.

Here, for example, is a snippet from last week's Happy-ish, and Rob Reiner discussing an upcoming shoot with the Keebler Elves, the cookie baking Keebler Elves. This sums up the current state of our business in a way 1200+ posts on this blog never could:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cutting All The Wrong Corners

Years ago, I did a TV shoot in Coral Cables, Florida. My art director partner wanted a pinkish dusk sky with big bulbous booming clouds in the background. This was before Photoshop or CGI, so the only buttons we could push were the ones on the telephone.

To call the travel agent.

We were there for a week. At one of Miami's swankiest hotels. We ate at Joe's Stone Crab. And after a hectic morning of tech scouting, we often lazed around on a yacht that sailed us by Key Largo.

Those lavish days are long gone.

Now every production (at every ad agency) comes under the scrutiny of hard-nosed cost control consultants who nickel and dime every line item until they've separated the boon from the doogle.

"Oh you want two 10K lighting packages? I think you can do it with one"

"That director would be nice, but this fellow is cheaper. Did you see the campaign he did for Sizzler?"

"We can't afford the Sheraton, unless the agency creatives share rooms. There's a Red Roof Inn just down the road. They have ice machines."

But all this rigorous penny pinching ignores the larger issue at hand.

It's as if the crew of the Titanic called all hands on deck to fix an overflowing toilet while the hull of the ship was being torn apart by a razor-sharp iceberg the size of Delaware.

The best time to save money isn't when a key grip is taking the lens cap off a 35mm camera. The best time to save money is when a planner cracks open a new marker pen to discuss the strategy.

This is the elephantine money pit in the room.

If I've seen it once, I've seen it a thousand times. The lower level marketing team, the ones hoping to become higher level marketing execs, decide the strategy should be one way:

"The car is more innovative…"
"The beer has fewer calories…"
"The flick flacks have better confabulation…"

And then the agency will dutifully chase that direction, pouring thousands of man hours into the effort. Including weekends, late nights and forgotten wedding anniversaries that will send many a teetering couple directly into the greedy hands of a divorce lawyer.

When the decks are printed, tweaked and reprinted, about 100 times, they will be presented to the next level up. Where, higher level marketing executives, also eager to climb the corporate ladder, will exert their power, pee all over the work and declare:

"The car is more fuel efficient…"
"The beer tastes better…"
"The flicks flacks are plated with titanium for better confibulation…"

Sending the ad agency and their marketing partners back to the drawing board to do it all over again.
And again.
And again.

Sure you can eliminate the craft service smoothie drinks or stick your employees at the back of the plane across the aisle from the broken potty that has spitting blue water into the air since takeoff in Detroit.

But the people wasting the most money are not the worker bees. The folks frittering away the greenbacks like some coked-up Pentagon Purchasing agents are the ones at the top of the org. charts. And their indecision, mis-management and myopic fear is costing billions of dollars, not millions.

Of course that's just the wasted money we can easily identify.

What about the incalculable costs generated by the children of overworked and under-reimbursed art directors and copywriters who, in the very near future, will be sitting with high-priced therapists and wondering why their mommies and daddies are not in any of the birthday party pictures.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It's Prom Night

I wasn't going to post pictures of my daughter and her date from last week's prom, as I like to keep the private part of my life private, but as is often the case, she goaded me into it.

"Put it on the blog, Dad. I'll bet you get 5 readers."

As you might have guessed, this apple didn't fall from the tree. She's sassy, wickedly funny and a cynic through and through. Thankfully she didn't inherit my looks.

It's hard to believe I found myself at the Burton Chase Park in Marina Del Rey shooting pictures of my little girl, who in years past could never spend enough time with me. Now, like Harry Chapin's, The Cat's in the Cradle song, she is rarely in the same room with me.

It's also hard to believe that three weeks from now she'll be graduating from Saint Monica's Catholic High School, where my little Jewish atheist daughter will receive the personal and spiritual blessings of the Monsignor.

"In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Our Savior, Our Father, I bless you and pray that Jesus will continue to bless you. Amen."

Out of respect she will accept his convocation, smile and walk away from the podium without a hint of snickering.

And three months from now, my wife and I will be escorting her to Boulder for her first semester at CU. She will snark her way through the whole process and never let on how nervous she is or how the anxiety has kept her from eating in a week.

But I know as soon as the doors close on our returning flight to Los Angeles and before all the seats and table are in the upright position, my wife will receive a text. Or worse, a phone call, to the effect of…

"Mom, I'm freaking out! What do I do now?"

It's at that time that we will remind Abby to step back and find the levity of the situation. And to call upon her innate sense of humor to muscle through the temporary anxious nature of the moment.

Just as she did on the night of the prom when she insisted that she and her friend pose next the garbage can.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"But he's not a digital copywriter…."

Being inside an ad agency gives me great joy.

On occasion.

For instance, I love going to work at a place of business with people dressed for the business of slacking off. The number of Oxford shirts and well-pressed pants in my closet is dwarfed by the number of T-Shirts, cargo shorts and well-worn flip flops.

I love the freedom of an ad agency.

There isn't a day that goes by when I'm not summoned to a desk or cubicle to see the latest video that's eating up the Internet -- yes, I want to see a snake swallow a porcupine. Hell, I'll wait around to see what happens at the other end.

And of course, I love the free food.

It's literally a cavalcade of bagels, donuts and chocolate chip scones, brought in by fawning reps hoping to secure some business for their photographers, music composers and illustrators.

I like to look at the food but never sample it.

I also like watching the young people scarf it down, oblivious to the fact that their slowing metabolisms will soon change their swipe-ability on Tinder.

But there is nothing that makes me happier than coming up with a solve, particularly a digital solve.

Last week for instance, and without revealing any agency or client details, my partner and I were asked to jump in on a digital assignment. We are both painfully aware that we are considered creative department dinosaurs. And that younger creatives are drooling with anticipation, waiting for the old dudes to lay something on the table that has with something to do with Morse Code or old wooden butter churners.

But that didn't happen.

In less than 36 hours -- the new time allotment given on any ad agency project -- we turned around a number of noteworthy solves. No sooner did they pass from our hands to the Creative Director, who excitedly looped in the Chief Creative Officer, who singled out one of our ideas, and declared the concept, "fucking great."

Not bad for a couple of old farts who can correctly identify Howard Gossage, Bill Bernbach and Jay Chiat.

Time will tell whether the idea moves forward or comes to fruition. To be honest, none of that matters.

To me, the fun part of the business is doing what many people assume I can no longer do. I'm not all up in your face with HTML coding, pushing content up the revenue stream or designing an engagement unit that holistically leverages the core brand essence across various static and mobile consumer touch points.

But if you need an idea, a real idea, and not a PBR-drinking, empty headed poser in a knit cap and Capri pants, you know where to reach me.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hello Ladies

The best news last week didn't come from Washington, DC where the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.4%.

It didn't come from Wall Street, where the Dow hit new highs and the NASDAQ soared above 5000 again.

The best news came from Century City, or more accurately, a Public Relations firm in Century City, who have officially heralded us into the age of the "Dad Bod."

I'm sure you have all heard about this. The Dad Bod is clever spin. Spun to cover up the deteriorating physiques of aging Hollywood heartthrobs, like Leonardo de Caprio (pictured above).

Apparently, and the PR firm didn't provide much in the way of evidence, women are yearning for a pear-shaped man with flabby biceps and one pack abs. A man who feels less at home with kale and protein shakes and more at home at Baskin & Robbins. Or Dave & Busters. Or at Pizza Hut or Taco Bell.

Or even better, at the Pizza Hut/Taco Bell Combination store -- yes, that's a real thing.

In any case, I'm glad this phenomena is finally coming around. But I hope Dad Bod seeking women will be more discerning.

Sure, you could go for one of these Dad Bod Newcomers who isn't quite comfortable in his newly stretched skin or relaxed fit jeans.

Or, you can opt for a man who's been rocking the Dad Bod since the day he was born, 44 years ago.

Mind you, it hasn't been continuous.

There was a short obsessive compulsive period when I was somewhat blubber-free. When the completion of one Olympic-length triathlon rolled right into the immediate preparation for the next. A time when my pantry was stocked with nothing but protein, protein shakes and ill-conceived protein supplements, like Ornithine, Creatine, and Lysine. It was during those misguided years when I flirted with a BMI in the low 20's and barely tipped the scales at 172, wet.

But those days of 31 inch waists and body-clinging ribbed T-shirts are long gone.

I'm not back to full Dad Bod form. Yet. But I am confident if I return to carbohydrates, triple my beer intake, and ease up on the swimming, hiking, elliptical stepping and biking, I can get myself in tip top Dad Bod shape.

But the news for you ladies gets even better. Because after 23 years of marriage, my wife has given me permission to "go off the reservation." I think it might have been an early Father's Day Gift.

"Hey if you can convince one of those young women in their mid twenties at the office or the gym to go for this (pointing at my almost-completed Dad Bod), you have yourself a jolly good time."

My wife might have been speaking in Sarcasm, the native language at the Siegel household.

But if she wasn't, I can only hope this publicly-broadcast open invitation does not crash the Internet.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

From the Department of Suggestive Photos

I don't usually participate in Internet memes'.

Never did the Ice Bucket Challenge, the list of influential books, or the more recent Sibling Day. I certainly don't take part in Facebook's Throwback Thursday, mostly because I have a face for radio.

But today I am indulging.

Out of curiosity I did a Google search on some of the Directors I had worked with in the past. Sadly, I had discovered that one of my favorites, Henry Sandbank, had passed away. Henry was distinctively old school.

He started as a still photographer in the Mad Men days and graduated to film, making some of the more classic spots of the 80's and 90's. We were honored to get him to shoot a demonstration spot for the Nissan Altima.

This was one of my first shoots and because of its destructive nature, one of my favorites. Mind you this was before CGI and many of the special effects we see today.

Henry rigged up a special 25,000 frame per second camera that would capture all the live action on film. And there was plenty of live action. We rented a warehouse out in Riverside and had the client supply us with TEN brand new Nissan Altimas. We hooked the Altimas up to a cable, not unlike the cables used to launch planes off aircraft carriers.

And then we let em fly.

It was an orgy of smashed metal, flying glass and ripped leather. I believe we captured what we needed on film by the fourth wrecked car, but since we had them on set, decided to pummel them all. You know, as a safety.

Sadly the client wouldn't let us show all the glass shards, twisted metal and splintered wood, which made us all wonder why they green lighted the spot in the first place. Nevertheless it came out ok, better than most of what passes for advertising today.

You see, car companies don't make commercials like this anymore.

Clients are happy to shoot a car on a winding road, slap on a popular song, surround it with a cacophony of digital nonsense and call it a day.

You're not missing much, Henry, not much at all.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On Sideburns

For the past two weeks I have been working with an old friend and former colleague, Robert Prins.

It's been a joy doing whatever it is we're doing. But it's been even more fun discussing what we did in the past.

For example, years ago while at Team One, Robert and I teamed up for an assignment for our client Boston Market. They were about to introduce their "authentic" BBQ chicken.

We proposed shooting a road trip throughout America, learning all we could about great BBQ in places like Kansas City, Memphis and Texas. The client loved the idea, but didn't love the budget.

Instead of a cross country bourbon-soaked boondoggle, we ended up in a dirt park in Santa Clarita and faking all the locations. So much for "authentic."

They also had a problem with the copy, which originally read:

"We came up with the recipe for our new BBQ chicken the old fashioned way, we stole it."

The spot turned out to be a piece of shit. Perhaps fittingly.  Let's be honest, if you're going to Boston Market for good BBQ, you have all the culinary discernment of a housefly.

Naturally the discussion turned to our many exploits of the past. Turns out Robert spent a few years at one agency (unnamed) run by an agency President (also unnamed) who personally rejected me for a staff position many years ago.

At first I had trouble recalling the story and then it came flooding back to me. The Creative Director at this unnamed agency wanted to hire me, but couldn't. Why, you may ask. And I'm glad you did. The unnamed agency President, a man who in many ways resembled Montgomery Burns, took issue with my resume.

You see, immediately after college I spent three years floundering as an over-educated line cook/sous chef/kitchen manager at many restaurants in Los Angeles. Mr. Burns saw this as a serious character flaw. And not someone who would fit into his somewhat rigid agency culture.

I cursed that old bastard then.
I'm so very thankful now.

As many 44 year olds will tell you, a career is shaped more by the job rejections than the job acceptances.

Robert has so many stories about this man, who is now deceased. My favorite was the agency wide memo that feels more apropos of something Kim Jung Un would send. Mind you this was about 25 years ago, but the little dictator issued a dictum stating:

"Long hair on male employees will not be tolerated here at (unnamed agency.)"

Further outlining proper company decor, he added a line that is Hemmingway-esque in its beauty and brevity, and ranks among the favorite string of five words that I've ever seen…

"Sideburns are for Spanish Dancers."

RIP, Mr. Unnamed Agency President. RIP.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My Dream Job

There aren't many good things you can say about the 405 Freeway.

Based on purely anecdotal evidence, I would say it is the highway that fuels the most road rage in America.

But it does have one redeeming feature. The Culver Blvd off ramp on the 405 North.

Recently reconfigured from its previous Braddock Drive egress, the ramp now spills out directly onto Culver Blvd. But not before the distracted Candy Crush playing driver is confronted with an oversized  No Right On Red sign.

And not just one, mind you. I believe there are three signs informing drivers, who might be texting or putting on make-up or eating dim sun (with chop sticks), that they must wait for a green light before proceeding on their inattentive way.

Of course, that doesn't stop these multi-tasking imbeciles from rolling the illegal turn, where nine times out of ten they will be greeted by a motorcycle cop, who often lies in wait on the next street.

If I could make it through the Police Academy and find a Kevlar jacket that doesn't make me look fat, ok, fatter, this would be the dream job of a lifetime.

There's so much to love about what this motorcycle cop does, I hardly know where to begin.

As you might have guessed, I have no love for people who can't keep one hand on the steering wheel and two eyes on the road.

Steve Jobs gave the world so much. The iPhone, the craned necks and the subsequent deterioration of environmental awareness, are not among his greatest gifts.

And so, calling these cretins to the carpet, would give me undeniable joy.

Moreover, the offense is so indefensible.

Armed with a small video camera, or for ironic purposes, an iPhone, John Law has concrete evidence of each mindless infraction. In the world of gotcha moments, this would be the creme de la creme.

If I could spend all day reveling in righteous indignation, writing tickets and racking up thousands of dollars of civic revenue to fix potholes, educate children and silence the reverse beeping on delivery trucks, I would be in Seventh Heaven.

Or at least at the corner of Culver Blvd. and Globe Ave.

Monday, May 4, 2015


I have a new TV show.

Maybe you've seen it.

It's called Happy-ish.

It's all about the life of a 44 year old copywriter who has grown bitter and angry with the industry that puts food on his table. And confused about the direction the business is going, particularly with its ungodly fascination with all things Twitterish. He's foul-mouthed. Delusional. And convinced the world is going to hell in a turbo-charged hand basket.

In other words, it's all about my life.

The problem is, I didn't write it. A fellow named Shalom Auslander did.
And it's not about my life, it's about his.

I met Shalom briefly in 1998. He was a copywriter at Chiat/Day in NYC. At the time, upper management was fond of flying my partner and I to the New York office to see if we could help out. I'm here to tell you, copywriters and art directors love it when they send in "help" from other offices.

How do they phrase it in the credentials -- putting global resources at the fingertips of visionary clients.

The irony of course was the NY creative department didn't need, or want, our help. The department  was chock full of talent including Shalom, now an accomplished author, and Toby Barlow, another accomplished author.

None of that stopped my partner and I from coming into town and acting like two untrained Great Danes. With full bladders. And a farm of cubicles to mark.

Fueled by this, and many other small indignities, Shalom went on to write Beware of God, one of my favorite books. And Foreskin's Lament. It was here that I learned of the odd parallel paths we had both taken.

He was raised in Monsey, NY.
I was raised in Suffern, NY, the very next town over.

He grew up as an Orthodox Jew.
I was raised as a reform Jew, but spent a great deal of time in Monsey. In lieu of expensive Hebrew school, my parents shlepped me down Route 306 to an old Hasidic rabbi's house for private and inexpensive lessons.

It was a crash course in phlegm, foul-smelling brisket and useless Talmudic teachings.

He became a copywriter and later, a disgruntled copywriter, with progressively unsatisfying stints at all the major ad agencies.

But this is where our paths diverge.

Shalom leveraged his wit and fondness for biting the hand that fed him for so many years. And now he is the driving force behind a TV show that handsomely pays him hundreds of thousands of dollars to skewer the greedy bastards who have irreversibly commoditized the business and rendered it no more creative than the pedestrian manufacture of industrial flanges.

I write a not-for-profit blog.

And the occasional Year End Sales Event.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Night at the Church of Elvis

I don't normally dedicate posts on RoundSeventeen.

But today is hardly normal and if you will permit me, I will explain why this one goes out to a friend and former colleague Kara O'Neill.

Kara was a producer at Chiat/Day. Recently her husband was diagnosed with cancer and is in a fierce battle while undergoing chemo. I don't do the God or prayer thing, but I do believe in the recuperative powers of laughter.

And so I'm hoping this piece can put a small smile on Kara's face and tell a story that might make her family chuckle.

Years ago, Kara drew the short straw at the agency and was assigned to produce a small campaign for me and my equally-obnoxious partner, John Shirley. We had big egos and an even bigger proclivity to make the life of TV broadcast producer a living hell.

The campaign was a series of cheap animated spots. And after the dutiful triple bidding of animation houses, we found ourselves in Portland working with the Will Vinton Studios, who you might remember from the California Grapes or the more current M&M's.

Animation is a slow, laborious process, so we were in Rip City for quite some time.

Kara, being Kara, scoped out all the best restaurants and attractions, including the notorious Church of Elvis. This was a seedy storefront museum dedicated to Portland's eclectic art community. A nice way of saying it was a warehouse full of crap. And the museum docent/operator was a character keeping with Portland's reputation for weird.

She would gather the bewildered museum goers in a circle and begin her awkward lecture. Then she would purposely provoke the crowd in order to elicit rude, inappropriate responses so that she could ceremoniously and quite theatrically "throw them out."

Well, rude and inappropriate was right in the Siegel/Shirley wheelhouse. And John and I wasted no time dishing it out.

We were escorted off the premises so fast we didn't have time to see the collection of hand embroidered Elvis Dish Towels.

That would have been enough for one night, but fueled with free alcohol, and the promise of even more free alcohol, we decided to take the party over a few blocks into the downtown red light district.

Kara had done her research and knew of a tiny little place called Mary's. It was Portland's oldest, and sleaziest, strip bars.

We, John, myself, Kara and diet-Coke guzzling Mikey Collado, a bright eyed, bushy-headed writer who could write more in a day than a dozen of today's copywriters could produce in a month, saddled into Mary's.

There, we saw strippers. Not the kind popularized on TV or in film. These were working class strippers who couldn't afford silicone. Or professional tattoos. Or even hairspray.

They smoked on stage, if you could call it a stage. When they wanted a certain song they simply shouted their request to the DJ/busboy. And they drank. Not beer. Or Chardonnay. They drank highballs of rot-gut authentic Arkansas whiskey. In glasses that were older than anybody in the bar.

One stripper, and this is the one I can never forget, stood over 6 foot tall. She was tatted on one entire half of her body. And she sported a long biker's keychain. One end of the chain was attached to her earlobe. The other draped beside her long, statuesque body and was attached to her…er, "key."

Holy shit, did we laugh that night.

If I didn't thank Kara then, I'm publicly thanking her now.

Those were good times.
I know her husband will beat this.
And there will be even better times for Kara and her family just around the corner.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Capigal Punishment

Last week, there was a great deal of media buzz about the 100 year old Armenian genocide, where, it is alleged, more than 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by Turkey.

To this day, the government and clerics in Istanbul, deny the charges and refuse to take any responsibility for the mass murder.

Yeah, I don't know why anyone would believe that well-armed Muslim militants would willingly rape, butcher and slaughter non-Islamic tribal people who don't subscribe to their fairy tale. That kind of religious-based fanaticism is completely beyond the pale.

Crazy talk, right?

Shamefully, the Israeli government (populated by second generation Holocaust survivors) and our own US government, have been slow to recognize and condemn the Armenian genocide. In diplomatic terms, we don't want to offend our Muslim allies in the region.

I understand that.

But I also wonder when people in the Muslim world are going to start gauging their actions so as not to offend people in the Western World?

In other blood-boiling news, we are now in the punishment stage for Dhjokar Tsarnaev, the jihadist behind the Boston marathon bombing. In all probability he will not receive the death sentence. Nor should he.

For completely ungodly reasons, death in the cause of Islam (shaheed) is a great honor. And he should be denied that honor.

We should also heed the apologists (and there are many) who claim that Tsarneav's actions as well as other terrorists have nothing to do with Islam.


Let's buy into that theory. Let's treat the Tsarnaev's of this world as Un-Islamic. That means, no prayer rugs, no Qurans, no accommodations whatsoever to a religion that they, as the clerics and scholars will tell us, have no right to represent.

Accordingly, Tsarnaev and all future jihadists caught by US authorities, will spend the rest of their lives in prison. Where they will be placed on the all-swine diet. That will surely have the desired deterrent effect.

Or as Homer Simpson is fond of saying:

"Mmmm, bacon. Is there anything it can't do?"

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bawling for Bowling

What the fuck happened to Bowling?

Last weekend, my wife boarded a plane to Boston for some quality time with her sisters. As you married men will attest, there's nothing like a good mancation.

Falling asleep on the couch, with a blaring TV, a half empty bottle of bourbon and the ugly remains of a Pregnant Burrito™ still on the coffee table. That's living.

I also took the opportunity to get some chow with a buddy of mine, grab my brother and head over to the Westchester Bowling Lanes across the street from LAX. I hadn't been to a bowling alley in years. And after this experience, may not for return for another decade.

For starters it was unrecognizable.

The long artificial fluorescent lights have been dimmed and replaced by swirling lasers and purplish neon.

The J-shaped booths have been replaced by cheap Euro-trash plasticize chairs that were bought from Ikea and bolted into the flooring.

And the scorer's table, once large enough to accommodate the unwieldy scoring sheets, a few pitchers of beer and a couple of overstuffed ash trays are now a tiny table no bigger than a TV tray, barely large enough to fit a Cinnabun.

And then there is the music.
If you want to call it that.

I hate to be oh-so-cliche and step on the Old Man Griping Pedal here, but seriously, what is that crap coming through the speakers?

Glocks and cocks.
Ho's and bitches.
Motherfuckers and dicksuckers.

On what planet, or bowling alley, does the qualify as music? Moreover, on the lane next to us, there were five 12 year old girls with loose hips and the dreaded selfie stick, "dancing" to the constant thumping, while their MILFY mother captured it all video.

"Can you girls keep the gyrations down, I'm trying to pick up a tricky 8-5-10 split."

Naturally, we all lamented the changes and yearned for the good old days of stubby pencils, big black beat-up 16 lbs. balls and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Not unexpectedly, we all bowled miserably, barely cracking into the three digits. The computerized screens wouldn't even let us enhance our score. Or take a Mulligan.

But it wasn't a total loss. I beat my brother at both games.

And the sweet taste of victory that one sibling lords over the other will never change and will always stand the test of time.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Advertising SchadenJoy

Making a television commercial is a tricky proposition.

How, for instance, do you convey the incredible handling and jet-propulsion power of a finely made German sports car?

Or, how do you describe the indescribably salty, tangy, beefy goodness of a restaurant chain's signature Kobe bacon cheeseburger using only the elements of sight and sound?

Years ago, I encountered what is perhaps the greatest of all challenges for a Television commercial -- television.

I was brought in at Chiat/Day to help pitch Pioneer Flatscreen TV's.

Their big selling point? Picture quality. But how, you might ask yourself, do you sell the quality of a new Pioneer TV to people watching TV on their Hitachi's, Panasonic's and old Philco's.

The answer oddly enough, at least for me, was radio.

Not radio specifically but metaphorically, as in theater of the mind. My idea was to craft little paragraphs of copy, not unlike what a screenwriter would present in a screenplay, and have the words read over the air.

The viewer at home would assemble the picture in his or her own imagination and in effect play an integral role in the communication. Not to sound immodest, but not a bad idea. It was different. It was intriguing. And it gave me, the freelance copywriter who had been doing a lot of crappy Year End Sales Events, an opportunity to flex some muscle.

As is often the case, my evaluation of the idea and management's evaluation of the idea were not exactly in synch. Because it was "small", "lacking in scope" and "dry", it got unceremoniously dumped in the huge Siegel Work That Never Made It Out The Door File.

Last week the idea resurfaced. Not for Pioneer TV, they went belly up (you can draw your own conclusions), but for Vizio.

In fact the picture-less commercial for the superior picture Television TV commercial was noted as Creativity's Ad of the Day.

In the past, seeing one of my ideas executed by another team, who will probably get promoted and earn themselves a big raise and buy themselves sportscars that will stave off their midlife crisis for another few years, would have made me steaming mad.

But the truth is, they executed the idea with much more panache than I saw it in my head.

The other truth is, I know the guys behind the work and can honestly they're the good ones. Craftsmen who spend more time working and no time politicking or chest beating or putting up selfies of themselves on Facebook.

Instead of Schadenfreud, I'm now experiencing this uncomfortable feeling of SchadenJoy.

In other words, I'm genuinely happy for them. Which means I've matured quite a bit.

And that's the really scary part.