Tuesday, September 27, 2016
For as long as I can remember, Abby, my youngest daughter, dreamed of going off to college and joining a sorority.
I don't know where this comes from, as my wife is a confirmed GDI, God Damned Independent.
And I am the last person on earth to join a club of any kind. I am beyond club-averse. I don't want to know any secret handshakes. Any club passwords. Or have anything to do with any organization that has a set of principles, a coat of arms or an agreed-upon set of do's and don'ts.
In fact if someone were to hand me that kind of list, there's a good chance and just for the sheer hell of it, I would go out of my way to do all the don'ts.
Well, last year -- to our great collective relief -- Abby got accepted into a sorority at the University of Colorado in Boulder, white people capitol of the world. And this summer she had to go back to school early for sorority activities.
Already the bloom is coming off the rose.
Turns out during this special time of the year, they call it Rush, the girls in the sorority including my daughter, get to interview and decide which of the new girls don't get into the sorority.
Abby would tell us over the phone, between fits of crying, "it's all so judge-y."
Uh, yeah it's judge-y.
That's what being in a sorority is all about. I wanted to tell her this when she was 8 years old. But you can't crush a little girl's dreams. Particularly after learning she wasn't getting a pony.
But to my daughter's credit, and perhaps a little to our own, Abby is going about the Rush process in a decidedly different manner.
You see each potential new member is given a rating, from one star to five stars, based on her interviews with the standing sisters. These ratings go a long way to determine who gets in their little club and who gets scarred for life and will spend thousand of future dollars in useless psychotherapy.
The rating cards are done anonymously and privately.
So to throw the bell curve a curveball, Abby has taken it upon herself to rate every girl with 5 stars. The top rating.
Doesn't matter if the girl has bad breath. 5 stars.
Has all the style of Kim Jung Un. 5 stars.
Or chews with her mouth open, pees standing up and farts during the solemn moment of silence to remember past sisters. 5 stars.
It's a small gesture that will do little to defray the monumental meaness that takes place at Kappa Gamma Theta Epsilon Sigma Gamma Beta Delta Gamma, but it's something.
Of course, I don't know where all that kindhearted empathy goes when Abby comes home for break and we're planning to go out for dinner.
"Dad, I'm not gonna be seen in public with you in those shoes."
Monday, September 26, 2016
I'm often asked, by other creatives just setting foot in the freelance pool, "How can you work at home? Don't you get lonely?"
"Lonely?" I say, "are you kidding?"
I have me.
I have my dog.
And when I need a distraction or the opportunity to interact, I have 1.5 billion people to troll on Facebook or Linkedin, where the gamut of stimulating conversation can run from Ted Cruz's latest re-entry into the political arena to the newest stuffed crust offerings from Pizza Hut; they put grilled cheese in the crust.
If that doesn't have Americans eating their pizza backwards, I don't know what will.
I also happen to be at my best when I'm left alone in a quiet environment where I can think and focus and eat with my mouth open.
Lest you think I have no live human contact with the outside world, there are always the robocalls. For reasons unknown, we still have a landline in the house. And perhaps due to some bad early potty training, I have been programmed to answer a ringing phone.
But this is where it gets good. Because the only people calling me on the landline are the solicitors and the scammers. And I'm guessing you already know how I feel about them.
"This is the Internal Revenue Service calling about case # 285739. This is a serious matter. Ignoring this case may result in a summons and an appearance before a magistrate, judge of federal grand jury..."
"Hello...this is Rich Siegel...is something wrong?"
"This is the Internal Revenue Service (in an Indian or Pakistani accent no less) regarding an outstanding bill that must be paid immediately..."
"I know exactly what this is about."
"Sir let me give you an address to send the money."
"It's about my Goat Insemination Business that I run on the side isn't it?"
"You know extracting sperm from goats for artificial insemination."
"Sir, you can wire the money immediately to avoid any penalties."
"I knew we shouldn't have taken those deductions but my accountant insisted. Look, sometimes the goats aren't in the mood. So we bought goat aphrodisiacs. We spent money on some Marvin Gaye music, you know to get the goats hot and bothered. We even purchased this special goat lube to apply to the goat penis..."
"Sir I do not want to hear your filthy degenerate stories. (this is often accompanied by colorful cursing in Urdu)"
"That's what I told my accountant. But he said these were legitimate expenses and that we could even take a credit for the electronic goat prostate massager."
The way I see it, the choice is simple.
I could be in an office, sitting in a conference room with some account folks and planners, carefully dissecting the behavior of tortilla chip consumers and the intricacies of the tortilla chip purchase funnel.
Or, I could be yanking the chain of a bearded flim flam man sitting in a boiler room in Islamabad hoping to skim some skin out of some poor American retiree's 401K plan.
If I ever needed a 'thought-starter', I choose the latter.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Last Saturday, was the one year anniversary of my previous book release, RoundSeventeen & 1/2, the Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Inefficient.
Thanks to the thousands of you who never shelled out 12 bucks to support your almost favorite blogger, it's currently sitting comfortable as the 1, 239,754th bestseller on Amazon.
My hope was to release my new book (pictured above) on September 17th of this year, but since I am the world's worst typist and have mercilessly terrorized the English language with grammatical errors and poor syntax, the book is still lingering in its proofreading stage.
Part of me was hesitant to publish a picture of the cover and any news about the upcoming book's release for fear of stealing its thunder. There's a genuine risk that any preview could deflate the pent up demand for this page-turning compilation of the best and bile-filled advertising rants from the past 8 years.
And then the haze from my codeine-enhanced cough medicine wore off.
The Big Book of Rants, a Genetleman's Bathroom Companion to a Life in Advertising, coming soon to a dusty digital bookshelf where it will sit eternally unread.
Next to this.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Had an interesting discussion the other day with a colleague and fellow freelancer. Actually, it wasn't a discussion -- people don't talk on the phone or otherwise anymore -- it was a series of texts via the wonky Facebook chat interface.
I was texting from my iPhone while high atop the Baldwin Hills overlook. And he was texting from the exact same seat and desk I had been occupying just one week earlier.
You can draw your own conclusions, but the discussion, as it were, was about the finicky nature of freelancing.
As my colleague pointed out, at one place you can be the hero who can "write like nobody else we have on staff." And the very next week you can find yourself working for another agency who, and this part I'll paraphrase, "writes shit like everybody else."
And so in the course of my 44 years circling the sun, I've developed a thick skin. A very, very thick skin, which like a camera, adds 10 lbs. to my appearance.
I also try to maintain an even keel about the work and the responses to the work. When there is high praise, and occasionally that happens, I'll blush a little and politely say thanks. I don't let it get to my head and start wondering if I should start wearing an ascot or an earring or some other affectation that says, "look at me, I'm special."
Where do people even buy ascots?
I also remind myself there are a shit ton of better writers out there. I came across another freelancer while on linked.com and he had a wealth of great work that turned me 50 shades of green. He did a great campaign with NFL players for the United Way that's buried on the back pages of his portfolio.
That's how good he is.
I'd hire him in a heartbeat over me.
And that's why I'm not sharing his name.
Conversely, I don't get my Hanes 36-Inch Tagless No-Ride-Up Briefs with the Comfort Flex™ Waistband tied in a bunch when someone sets fire to one of my scripts. Or as one creative director put it so eloquently and with no small measure of disdain...
"This feels like something Goodby would have done in the mid-90's."
If memory serves me correct, Goodby Silverstein and Partners were enjoying the height of their success in the mid 1990's. I would think most agencies would be lucky to recreate work of that caliber. When did that become a pejorative?
What do I know?
I try not to let that get to me. Or as my colleague reminds me, it's the rollercoaster nature of the business.
Problem is, I see the kind of work that gets killed and the work that gets produced and am reminded of a different stomach-grinding amusement park ride and it's appropriate nickname -- the Vomitron.
Perhaps you're familiar with it.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
We visited some friends recently who had just finished painting their living room. Naturally, as guests and being of excessive politeness, we said it looked beautiful. Unable to let a sleeping dog lie however, I made further inquiry.
"What color was it before?"
"It was Snowbound White 7004."
"We went with Toque White 7003."
"Lovely. Just lovely."
And that, in a nutshell is where we are at in Advertising 2016.
Trying to move an apathetic, largely-disinterested audience with fragmented media and a monumentally-bland message that is barely two Angstrom units to the right or left of the same incomprehensible strategy used by the nearest competitor.
Witness the Lexus commercials that look like Acura commercials.
Coke spots that could easily be mistaken for Pepsi spots.
And Windows ads that bear an uncanny resemblance to those from Apple.
(Though to be fair that seems to be MicroSoft's entire modus operandi.)
I'm happy to take money from clients and marketers who think terms like Motivated Achievers or Ambitious Challengers or Extroverted Innovators are useful demographic delineators.
Or agencies who believe their insightful one-of-a-kind briefs are different than another agency's identical insightful one-of-a-kind brief.
Or anyone who thinks they can build a successful brand with tweets, Insties and Snapfaps™.
The truth is they're all playing in the same sandbox. And at some point, the turd left by the cat has to be removed.
It's all such small ball.
And maybe when you're dealing with parity products and parity services it's impossible to raise the flag of true differentiation. But hell, what happened to swinging for the fences? To saying something nobody else was saying? And doing it in a way no one was else was doing?
The other truth is, if you're not doing something radically different, you're doing everything radically wrong.
But I don't expect anything to change. And until then, I'll just keep creating social media scavenger hunts that will never get produced. Conjuring up brand activation stunts that will never get activated. And writing meaningless, micro-targeted TV spots aimed at Perseverant Non-Traditional Influencers.
Whatever the fuck that means.
Monday, September 19, 2016
For the last couple of weeks I have been going into an office. It was a refreshing change of pace as most of my work is done at home. From the comfort of my man cave. With my snacks and my napping couch always nearby.
As agencies go, the place I was going to was great.
They put my partner and I in a real office. With a window. And a door that closed. And a couple of Herman Miller chairs that eased our aging backs. It was the kind of respect and professionalism one rarely sees these days.
Once handed the brief, we wasted no time cranking out the work. Freelancers are expected to spit out massive quantities of work and 10 TV scripts in the course of one day meets that criteria.
In between the generation of ideas, my art director partner and I did what all creative teams do in order to answer the brief -- we shot the shit.
We talked about this.
And of course, we talked about that universal assnugget account guy we all know and hate. This assnugget doesn't have a name, or even a body. He or she is simply an amalgamation of all the assnuggets we have come in contact with over the years -- the screamer, the skirtchaser, the incompetent anti-Mensa, and the drunken drug addict who manages to fit all the criteria.
There was also the ceremonial telling of the war stories.
It was at this point that my partner told me of the time he was freelancing for a NYC agency. This was a shop that on their very best day, might, with some luck and the odd alignment of the stars, do something that could qualify as mediocre.
They never aspired to greatness or fooled themselves into thinking otherwise. And for not giving any lip service to that notion, as many do, and having a realistic assessment of their abilities, I will give them credit.
After a week of concepting, keep in mind this was a while ago, my partner and his writer were asked to show work to the Creative Director, who brought them into his fancy NYC office, sat them on the couch, and queried, "Where's your Rig?"
Not knowing what to make of the situation, my partner replied, "Huh?"
Turns out this was an agency that had made a name for themselves with jingles. So the Creative Director was expecting jingles. And the Rig in question, was a Cassio Keyboard (as seen in the picture above.)
I know there are people in the industry that make a living that way and solve complex marketing problems with little musical ditties, but my partner and I are not those people. He left the agency shortly thereafter. With nothing more than a check and a great little war story.
"Where's your Rig?"
I love that.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
It's been a busy week.
It's been a busy month.
It's been a busy summer.
So today I'm going to give myself a break and let my iPhone do the talking.
The photo above was snapped while walking to the Baldwin Hills Overlook in south Culver City. A walk my wife and I will be doing on fewer occasion given the shrinking daylight hours.
This nihilistic minivan owner caught my eye.
But it wasn't the only decal worth noting.
If only clients had a similar sense of humor.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
There's a scene I have stuck in my head.
It might have been from Seinfeld.
Or Curb your Enthusiasm.
Or Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Here's a hint, they're all the same.
In the scene, Jerry/Larry sits in a diner with a friend who starts scanning the breakfast menu. Jerry/Larry confronts the friend.
"It's breakfast. You never had breakfast before? You need a menu to order breakfast?"
If you were to read that previous line with a New York Jewish accent, it would seem that much funnier.
I bring this up because we, in the ad agency world, seem to be replaying this scene on a daily basis. We meet with our clients and hand them an incomprehensible, overwhelming, massively confusing menu of options.
It's as if the quantity of non-Disruptive™, non-paradigm shifting™, non-viral sharing™ideas laid upon their table could somehow mask the underwhelming quality of the ideas.
I have literally witnessed 300-page plus presentation decks, that if launched from a shoulder-mounted RPG could easily rip a hole through a steel reinforced cement bunker.
Not to sound like a 44-year old broken record player, but I can remember a simpler time when days before an important presentation, one of my supremely-confident and visionary bosses like Clow or Hayden or Lubars would say...
"If we go in with three options, they're going to pick the weakest one. Let's just show them One."
Three TV spots.
Some print to back it up.
Maybe a radio script, no one would listen to.
That presentation would be no thicker than the Instruction Manual for Apple's new Air Pods.
Wouldn't that be refreshing? Maybe then we could restore some semblance of the work/life balance? By culling the herd and eliminating the Frivolous Fuckwadian Digital Knick Knacks™ we might actually start having fun again.
I'll bet agency people would be happy.
And clients would be even happier.
We haven't shot ourselves in the foot.
We're hobbling around on crutches because we dropped an 85 lbs. PowerPoint deck on our collective Metatarsal.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
It is roughly 7.3 miles from the heart of Culver City to the heart of Santa Monica, California. Or 11 minutes as the crow flies.
Of course if you were a crow in a cage and that cage were in the backseat of 2007 Lexus, it could take you well over an hour and twenty minutes.
That's assuming the assnuggets on the 405 and the 10 are not busy texting or doing Pilates or eating sushi with chopsticks (actually seen that), or doing anything but driving their goddamned cars.
And so this week, and the past two weeks, I have been straphanging. Riding the recently completed Expo Line and enjoying the fruits of my oversized tax deductions.
As a verified ferroequinolist, or railfan for the layman, I can tell you our Southern California steel horses are quite different than others.
In Paris for example it is not unusual to still spot the locals, particularly the older ones, lighting up a cigarette on the train. Or making out. Or both.
In London, you'd be hard pressed to find any litter on the Tube. Maybe it was the part of town I was in, but the trains were spotless.
In Germany, for obvious reasons, I chose not to ride the trains during my ill-fated trip to Deutschland.
Of course, when it comes to trains, and subways more specifically, nothing can compete with the Big Apple.
As a teenager, I worked at my dad's office in lower Chelsea and had ample opportunity to ride the rails. Part of me wishes I had stayed in NYC, if only for the colorful dialogue, the conflagrations and the jawdropping oddities one can only witness on the Pelham 123.
If there is a heaven, you can keep your white robes and violins, I'll take a front row plastic seat on the Number 7 Line and an eternal ricketty ride through the human zooscape that is the Big Apple.
Sadly, the current ride to Santa Monica offers little in the way of people gawking. Sure, there's a pleasant diversity of Hispanic housemaids and African American bike messengers, and hipster media workers with their handlebar mustaches and Melrose avenue man-purses, but little in the way of unusual.
Yesterday, I saw a Pakistani guy holding two iPhones. He was wired into an old episode of Seinfeld on one phone while playing Candy Crush/Farmville/or some other stupid ass video nonsense on the other.
This week, I'm hoping for something more exciting, something in a New York State of Mind.
This for instance would make my day:
Monday, September 12, 2016
There is nothing so wonderful as getting booked on a new gig.
It's one part, "Holy shit, I fooled them again."
Mixed with another financial part along the lines of, "great we don't have to eat ketchup packet sandwiches next week."
If you're like most people, according to the Department of Labor statistics, you get a new job once every 2.7 years. But when you're a freelancer like myself, and an increasing number of my readers, you get "hired" for a new job 13-18 times a year.
And then, it's not so great.
Because each of these 13-18 new employers has their own onboarding -- god I hate that word-- procedures, including new applications, new identification methods, new invoicing, new timesheet, and enough federal regulation compliance papers to choke a small industrial shredding machine.
On the Pain In The Ass Scale of 1-10, it's a 94.
Years ago, men had this fetishized thing about letting a gerbil run up a toilet paper tube to massage their prostate. Replace that gerbil with a snaggletooth piranha. And then fill out this I9/gwq-K form and have it notarized. In triplicate.
That's what it feels like.
Years ago, one unnamed agency sent me the pdf of their new employee paperwork. Mind you this was for a three day gig. I printed it out and it was no less than 78 pages. They wanted ID forms. They wanted me to read a Code of Conduct manual. They wanted me to know where all the fire exits were. And they wanted copies of my high school transcripts with a full description of why I requested an exemption from Rope Climbing. (Chapter Seven in my upcoming new book -- Things Jews Don't Do).
The pundits claim ad agencies have failed to maintain pace with digital technology. That's not true. Because HR Departments are now migrating the entire onboarding process to a computer or mobile device near you.
You'd think that by utilizing all the whiz bang technology available at our fingertips that the whole thing would be a breeze -- that with autofill, electronic signatures, and intuitive tabbing, it'd be wham-bam thank you Omnicam. You'd be wrong.
How wrong, you ask?
I am by no means singling out Omnicom, because this takes place across the board at all the holding companies. But the process can be so daunting, that one agency and their third party onboarding partners put out this helpful video on how to fill out your timesheet.
Which of course begs the question, 'Is there a pamphlet that explains how to upload the how to video about how to fill out the timesheet?'
Not long ago, I completed a job for another unnamed agency. Keep in mind, I passed several college level courses in differential calculus, so I don't consider myself a dullard, or a Texas Congressman, but their invoicing procedure was so complicated and so fraught with technicalities it required 12 emails with four separate HR team members.
That's a lot of wasted man hours and loss of productivity.
Or, in terms that ad agency people can understand, that's one less bottle of Chateaunef du Pape in Cannes next year.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Newsflash: celebrities die.
Sure, they lead different lives than the rest of us civilians. They're the first ones to board a plane, often enjoying their tall flute of champagne before the schlubs in Boarding Section Q start lugging their torn Samsonites with the one wobbly wheel back to Seat 79D, three inches from the toilet, and 5 hours of errant blue water mist.
But at the end of the day, or the end of 70+ years, the mortuary assistant puts their pants on one leg at a time. Just like you, me and Betty Bag O'Donuts.
Last week, following an abnormally long list of celebrities who have gone to the other side in 2016, it was Gene Wilder's turn.
I loved Gene Wilder as much as the next fellow.
Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, the Producers, he was great, blah, blah, blah. But let's be honest, I haven't seen or heard his name in the last three years, so his departure is hardly going to...wait, I want to quote somebody on Facebook...
"leave a gaping hole in my comedic soul that is still fresh from the emotional crater left by Robin William's departure."
I don't want to seem hardhearted, but it's hard not to laugh at the stream of the overwrought postmortems that flood social media the minute some actor, actress or musician kicks the can.
And the bigger they are, the sappier it all gets. When Prince left us...
"I feel like a purple shroud has been draped over my heart, blinding to me to any possible happiness that may be on the horizon. I am crushed beyond words and will no doubt emerge a lesser man."
Not to be outdone, the David Bowie fangirls and fanguys had a field day...
"If there is a God, he or she is no doubt enjoying a front row seat to the eternal genius that was Bowie. Take me now, Lord, so that I may sit next to you for one more stirring encore of China Girl."
When I heard of Gene Wilder's passing, I thought, "damn, he was funny." I still remember seeing him in a hilarious scene when Zero Mostel tells him how their plan has gone terribly wrong and may result in a prison sentence. Wilder has a tantrum and to calm him down Mostel throws a glass of water in his face.
"I'm wet. I'm hysterical. And I'm wet."
The news did not debilitate me, rendering me useless for the rest of the day. I had some banner ads to write, so I moved on.
Besides, when all is said and done, the genius behind all the laughter doesn't come from the guy reading the lines it comes from the guy writing them, Mel Brooks.
When he passes, I'll be crushed.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Last week, the SuperDesk™ and the agency where it is currently parked, the Barbarian Group, were in the news again.
I don't know anything about the Group.
I don't know the work they do.
I don't know the Creative Directors there.
And I don't know if I'll ever do any projects for them.
I'm guessing I won't.
But I am intimately familiar with their iconic SuperDesk™ and perpetually amused how the brass at the Barbarian Group tried to pawn this tool of the sweatshop culture upon the other Barbarians. And it explains why I am not surprised to hear of the continuing woes of the agency.
If we've learned anything from this architectural monstrosity it's that people who work in advertising are the most cynical, skeptical, and leery people on the planet. And they see this Escher-like ribbon of collaboration malarkey for exactly what it is -- Bullshit.
And guess what overpaid, pollyanna, concoctors of corporate Kool Aid (I'm talking to you, ad leaders) that's exactly what you want in an ad person.
Because people who can spot bullshit from across state lines are your best bet to create real advertising and real communications that will resonate with real people.
You want the doubters.
You want the eye rollers.
You want the ones who are willing put their foot down, look a planner or a client or a CEO in the eye and say, "we can spend 100 million dollars on this, or 100 billion, but people are not going to eat their pizza backwards. They're just not."
We sell ourselves to clients as experts in the human condition. We tell them we examine all the data, we produce magical insights and change the business landscape with our disruptive inescapable truths™.
Well, digging for game changing truths requires the ability to sort through the spin, discarding the hubris and calling out the bullcockery.
Years ago, when I was at Chiat/Day --possibly the most annoying phrase ever written -- they moved us into the famed binocular building in Venice. Before the big transition, Jay brilliantly announced we were going to pioneer the Virtual Office™. Unless you're a fan of carnival midway games, it was all just a sham.
We, the employees, were going to a virtual office only because there wasn't enough space for us to have real offices to go to.
There's an old maxim that says: you can't bullshit a bullshit artist.
To that I would add...
To assemble the best team of bullshit artists you need people who can spot bullshit.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
I was having lunch with a colleague years ago. Actually he's only half a colleague. He's a director/copywriter. He was telling me a common story among those who lens. (Did I just use lens as a verb? How very Hollywood of me.)
He said his directing career was going like gangbusters. A pilot here. A short there. And multiple multiple-package spots that had paid off his mortgage for months to come and vanquished the disgusting notion of ever returning to the copywriting field.
And then it happened. The phone simply stopped ringing.
It wasn't cause he had laid an egg. Or dropped a turd in the punchbowl -- and when I use that phrase it's not figuratively, I hang with a crude bunch of scatological people who have the collective maturity of a 14 year old.
When it came to new projects, his name simply never popped up.
I suspect the same thing has happened to many of the A-list directors who normally came courting me for gigs. Oh how I miss those fancy lunches and dinners. The thinly veiled fawning and plastic deference. And the swag; all those production company logo emblazoned t-shirts, coffee mugs and beach towels.
I wonder where they all are now.
Not surprisingly, the dead phone phenomena is a recurring nightmare for me as well. Even though I am only 44 years old, there is no reason to suspect that it couldn't happen any day.
In fact, on June 23, 2016, I was sure it did.
I told my wife, "this is it. There's a tidal wave of change coming to the adworld. Holding companies keep laying off the experienced staff people. They keep hiring these inexpensive kids who scoff at 75 hour work weeks and put in 100. And I can't walk to Jackson Market without bumping into another freelancer wondering where all the work went. We're gonna have to sell the house and buy a double wide in Sioux City and live off the $6,953 of profits I made on the Apple Stock. We're fucked."
She, having heard this about a million times before, opened the pantry, bent over to look at the bottom shelf and with passing disdain, "You bought the wrong garbage bags again."
As I've documented lately, she was right and I was, well, less than right.
The phone did ring again. With a vengeance. I've worked on a stunning variety of projects. From one of the nation's largest financial institutions to a laundry detergent scent freshener to the incredible Legends in Concert, the longest running and most successful tribute artist show in Las Vegas, where for the price a good cut of prime rib, you can enjoy the entertainment stylings of Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and the Blues Brothers, all on one stage.
I even have 2-3 spots going into production.
It's been a cornucopia of assignments. And it's showing no signs of letting up.
But as my friend warned me, while stuffing his face with lamb schwarma, the phone can and will, without any warning, stop ringing at any moment.
Sioux City, here we come.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
I love this letter.
I know it's been floating around the inter webs for ages now, but it resurfaced last week and I was reminded how much I love this letter.
In three short paragraphs, Mick Jagger, an accomplished songwriter, manages to encapsulate the entire drama of someone who finds themselves at the crossroads of art and commerce.
If we allow ourselves the assumptive leap to advertising, it's clear that Mick Jagger would be the ideal client. One who understands that great breakthrough thinking demands time, freedom and, most importantly, commensurate remuneration.
Think how different the airwaves would look and how little the Skip Ad button would be clicked or the DVR fast forward button utilized if we were given the same parameters.
The same parameters that produced this iconic piece of work.
That is not the case.
Nor is the most difficult part of our job creating such eye-popping material.
The hardest part of our job is convincing the Al Stecklers' of this world to take the leap forward with us. Something I learned quite recently.
Last week, an ad industry legend offered this choice piece of advice to students:
"Create as if you want to get fired."
We did that with one of our clients.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Today is the last day of August. If the trend continues as it has, it will be the highest trafficked month in the 8 &1/2 year history of RoundSeventeen. That means nothing to you, but it's a major milestone for me.
Don't forget, I'm no longer a staff guy at an agency so I don't have the jubilant moments you still get to enjoy...
"That was a great meeting!"
"Did you see the way the client was smiling when I read the tagline?"
"I have my fingers crossed, but I'm pretty sure they're gonna let us take this work into focus groups. Woo Hoooo!!!!!!!"
So why the sudden jump in web traffic, you might be asking, but probably are not. A few weeks ago, I posted a little political commentary regarding Trump's nefarious association with Russia.
It got more than 1000 shares on Facebook and Twitter. And, I suspect, led people to my little blog. At least that's what the Google analytics tell me. This little meme floated all around the Mother country.
So to pander to all my new Russian followers, and because I simply can't get enough of Russian Dating Sites, I'm revisiting сайт знакомств трут.
Say hello to Elanya, a full-figured gal looking for a full-figured man who "enjoys Air Supply, monster truck demolition derbies and discotheque." She's marriage-minded and wants to meet a man who can complete her. Preferably one who also has a speaker for a Panasonic KB9077 Series B beat box player.
Meet Malvina. As you can see from the crayon markings on the kitchen wall, Malvina is a single mom, widowed when her husband Petrov choked in a Vodka/Cheesecake eating contest. According to her bio, she is a sturdy woman, of fine character and has an admirable collection of pots and pans.
Yaraslava is a party girl. Actually, she was a party girl. Though her picture mistakenly remains on the dating site, she met her dream man, Alexei, seen here:
Sadly, there were no wedding pictures to be shared.
Finally, there is Raisa.
Her picture and profile have been up for quite some time. Unfortunately no Russian suitor has swiped right. This has led to many heated discussions here at RoundSeventeen headquarters. The staff and I agree it has little to do with the jorts or the exposed midriff or even the dated linoleum.
Girl, we know it's difficult, but you gotta give up the ciggies.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
If you were to look at my dropbox and the many files added, tweaked, revised and re-revised last week you'd have a hard time telling I was on vacation. But I was.
At least the freelancer's version of a vacation.
One of the perils of my current position is never being able to schedule anything in advance. Because as the world would have it, jobs, assignments, projects, never come up when I'm looking for them. But always come up when I plan to wind it down.
Before my oldest daughter returns to college for her junior year or as I like to call it, "The $110,000 - $135,000 Semester", my wife thought it would be great to rent a little cottage in Newport Beach and just slum around for a few days.
She found this little frumpy flop house, a block from the sand, and we were in walking distance to a bevy of seaside restaurants and little dive bars where 60 year old surfers still wear tank tops and speak in monosyllabic beach slang.
Of course, as luck would have it, I also got a call from an agency that had never called before, so it was not one I could turn down. Or turn over to my many freelance copywriting friends eager to soak up my leftovers.
So while my wife and daughter were tanning on the beach, I was writing commercials.
While my wife and daughter were riding rental bikes between the piers, I was writing commercials.
While my wife and daughter were drinking mojitos made with fresh mint from our garden, I was writing commercials.
Ok, I was drinking mojitos too.
Drinking and writing are natural dance partners. See Hemmingway, see Bukowski, see Hepinstall.
But don't start the pity party just yet.
As any freelancer will tell you, there's something comforting in being booked, especially when you're an aging 44 year old copywriter. And it's sort of nice knowing the vacation you're partially enjoying is paid for in its entirety.
One night, we went to the Crab Cooker, a longstanding Newport Beach institution. There, knowing I was working and had earned a well-deserved reward, I ordered the market price lobster. I'm half Scottish and half Jewish and given to self denial. Meaning, I never order the market price lobster.
But I fought off the guilt and was eagerly looking forward to cracking into that inordinately expensive red shell, digging out the fleshy nectar of the gods and dipping it in high caloric melted butter.
You can imagine my disappointment when the waitress put the plate in front of me and explained how the lobster had been pre-shelled, cooked on a grill and placed on a skewer. It had all the visual appeal of a dirty dish sponge. And was 180 degrees from a Red Lobster TV spot.
OK, now you can start the pity party.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Years ago, so long ago I sometimes have to wonder whether it really happened or if it was product of my imagination, my father purchased a dairy farm in Upstate New York.
Not upstate like Rockland County, a bedroom community just outside of New York City, reachable with a good titanium driver and few well placed fairway shots.
But upstate, upstate. In the northern reaches of the Empire State, where the locals had never eaten a bagel or met a Puerto Rican.
In many respects, my father was like a well-educated Ralph Kramden, always believing the next get rich scheme was just around the corner. Or in this case, 379 miles due north of Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.
Al, and another of unlikely partners, I believe his name was Irving, Murray or Schmuelly, purchased a small farm with a herd of 30 or so cows. The idea was to run the farm at a loss -- which turned out not to be too difficult. And thus he and his partners would have a legitimate tax loss, thereby pocketing oodles of money that would have been earmarked for the IRS.
Back in the day, my father ran with a streetwise crowd which included many guidos, I hope that term is not off limits. Apologies in advance to my Italian-American friends. When I was a kid, once a month, on Tuesdays nights, some of these crooked-nosed, truck-diverting fellows came to our apartment in Jackson Heights to smoke cigarettes, drink beer and play poker.
So, it is not out of the question to believe the dairy farm, could also have been a front. That is, an enterprise for Jimmy Two Times or Freddie The Runt to launder bundles of cash. I was in California and the milking, such as it was, was taking place 3000 miles away. So I just don't know.
I do know that had my brother and I been anywhere in the vicinity of the farm, my father would have put us to work. It didn't matter that we were grown men, he would have rousted us from our beds before the sun got up and in his unique forceful manner had us doing chores...
"I brought you into this world, I can take you out. Now get those cows washed before I give you something to cry about."
All of which would have come as a surprise to me because frankly I had no idea cows needed to be washed. All the hamburger and milk is on the inside, so who cares if they get some schmutz on their leather coats.
There can be no doubt, my brother and I would have brought the automatic cow washing machine to his attention. We would have whined and begged until he could take no more and signal his forfeit with a purchase.
You probably didn't know there even was an automatic cow washing machine. I know I didn't.
But my art director partner came across it recently while were were doing an assignment for a state Dairy Association. Naturally, we pitched the cow washing machine as an idea for a campaign. And naturally, the idea died. It went straight to the advertising slaughterhouse, a highly efficient abattoir run by small minded planners, account people and committee think.
The spots practically wrote themselves. And probably would have won a ton of awards.
But then, what do I know?
Thursday, August 25, 2016
A few weeks ago my wife did a favor for a colleague. I'd tell you what that favor was, that is if I could remember. But like many husbands I only retain 10% of what she tells me.
5% if I've been taking my cough medicine.
In any case, the favor was returned when that colleague gave my wife a bottle of G.H. Mumm Brut Cordon Rouge champagne, which one reviewer on Vivino described as...
"Crisp citrus acidity and bountiful firm bubbles with good length."
If I've said that once, I've said it a thousand times.
This week we have good reason to pop that sucker.
Not because the 2nd proof of my new book came in and it is almost ready for release.
Not because my white trash neighbor seems to be inching closer and closer to self-destruction.
And not because my dance card has been filled to the brim with well-paying clients.
The reason for celebration is simple -- we are over the hump.
Thanks to the rigging of the system, we have two daughters attending out of state colleges. Scholastically speaking, they were good enough for the state of Washington and the state of Colorado but somehow not good enough for the state of California.
Out of state tuition is almost double that of in state tuition. I could cry Foul or Bullshit or "Attica!" but I'd be wasting my breath.
Last week I made the payment for my first daughter's first semester. I don't need to get into the numbers or show you the picture of the Bentley I could be driving, suffice to say that we have passed the halfway point.
It's all gravy and depleted IRA accounts from here on out.
Of course my wife doesn't drink champagne, and unless one of you want to come over, it means I'll be drinking it all by myself.
Might be a good way to wash down the prescription cough medicine.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Winston Churchill once said, "You have enemies? Good that means you stood up for something."
Well, in the course of the past 6 months I've made an enemy. Who are we kidding? I've probably made more than one. But this one enemy in particular has now taken to publicly besmirching my good name on the Interwebs.
In accordance with a longstanding rule here at RoundSeventeen, I'm not going to give out his name. This ancient Hebraic tradition dates back to the time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the goats they begat. As it is written in the Talmud, Rabbi Ezekiel once said,
"Thouest who is besmirched shall not partake in any further besmirching. Or the eating of any Lobster Newburgh."
And though I am prohibited from speaking his name, there is nothing that says I cannot lay out some clues for those who might be curious. As the picture above indicates (not his picture btw), he is a white male. He is given to wearing hoodies or the fashion of the minute. And he sports dreadlocks.
If I know my readers, and I believe I do, that has already caused half of you to whisper, "douchebag" silently in your head.
Let me get the other half on board the bus.
Hipster Bob Marley is also...wait for it...a Planner.
I've taken plenty of shots at Planning on this blog. Perhaps even too many. I've also had a career's worth of good work killed by the scholars in the Planning Department. Had that work left the agency and been approved by the client, I might be writing this piece from my oceanfront home in Malibu as opposed to my dump in Culver City.
So, in my feeble mind, it's somewhat justified.
What I have never done however is aim The Big Pointy Stick of Disdain at any one particular Planner.
Rasta Man thinks differently and recently tweeted that I had "a history of bullying planners, young female planners in particular."
I don't take kindly to professional slander and asked him, point blank, to site the blog piece that backed up his spurious claim. That request went unanswered. A simple cut and paste on his part would have put me in my place.
But De Bredda couldn't post any evidence because there is no evidence.
Recently DanceHall Harry's name popped up in a contentious Facebook thread regarding the topic of creative plagiarism. I'm thoroughly against it. Dutty Money is for it. In a magazine interview he did years ago he was quoted as saying, in his annoying obtuse manner:
"Stealing in our schema of language is not dishonest. It exposes its debt. It uses the reference. It says, 'this is the reference. I'm using it. I'm putting it in here."
I've seen some semantic gymnastics, but this guy is a multi-gold medal winner.
Unlike many colleagues, I don't have a ton of achievements in my advertising career. But getting to the very top of this rastafarian gasbag's shitlist counts as one of my proudest.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Last week, I mentioned I got my start in advertising as a Mailroom clerk. I was paid $800 a month. A month! At the time, rent for my shitty apartment in West LA was $400 a month.
So after work, I'd run home, jump out of my mailroom clerk clothes and jump into my short order cook clothes. And work at a nightclub in Santa Monica from 7-Midnight.
My brain hurts just thinking about it.
It would have exploded had I known, or even had an inkling, how much money the top officers at the company were hauling home every two weeks. But this was pre-Internet and pre-social media so there would be no way for me know.
Moreover, and this is the important point, they, meaning the people wallpapering their dens with $100 bills, had the good sense and decorum to keep that shit private. And not in a passive manner. They went out of their way not to flaunt their wealth. They drove crappy cars. Brown bagged their lunches. And even washed their own coffee mugs. To appear grounded. To exhibit some type of modesty.
Because it was in the best interest of the company not to demoralize the other employees by demonstrating the inequality of the pay scale. This bit of wisdom seems to have been lost. Along with the notion that workers who put in 70 hours Monday thru Friday should take the weekend off to recharge their batteries.
Recently, on her blog Heidi Consults, Heidi writes The Five Reasons Why Your Best Creative People Will Quit. As someone who has been in the trenches for longer than I want to believe, I can tell you four of the reasons hold no water whatsoever.
Reason #2 however resonates like a 6.7 earthquake.
Which has inspired me to write a little note to my future self.
I'm only 44 years old and I believe the best part of my career is yet to come. Some may think that is delusional, but if you've been a reader here for any amount of time you know I'm an eternal optimist.
If I ever become wealthy -- but Rich you have your health, a loving family and all the blessings a man could want, yeah, well none of that shit pays the two college bursars or the bank with the huge note on the house.
Like I said, if I ever become wealthy, or have my own agency, or land a really sweet staff job, the first thing I'm going to do is buy my family an outrageously expensive membership at a private ski club, I didn't even know those existed.
The second thing I'm going to do is delete my Facebook account.