Monday, June 30, 2014

Gone Camping

If you read roundseventeen with any regularity, and frankly I don't know why anyone other than my wife would, you know that at this time of the year we head up to Independence, CA, for our yearly camping trip.

This year, our twelfth, will be different.

My youngest daughter is away at Jew camp. And my oldest daughter has a summer job and will be guarding the homestead with our dog Nellie.

In the spirit of not divulging too much security information, my brother has also agreed to pop in the house at several unscheduled times. Lest any of you ne'er-do-wells have any thoughts of coming to Culver City and relieving me of my prized 50 inch flatscreen TV or my 21-speed Cinelli racing bike.

My brother's wrists are as thick as a #10 can of Ketchup, so I don't recommend tangling with him.

So where does that leave you, the regular roundseventeen reader?

Probably with a much needed respite from my finely fermented venom, my Luddite geo-political ramblings, and my personal oversharing.

But I'm not about to leave you in the lurch.

That's not how I built the 23,981,763rd most popular blog in America with a daily readership in the high teens, and spiking in the low twenties when linked via AgencySpy or Huffington Post.

I've scoured the archives and reposted pieces that I thought were deserving of a second look. I'm often surprised on this end about which posts catch fire and which ones don't.

I hope you will enjoy these while I'm high in the Sierras cavorting with the local meth-heads and scrounging for moss that will answer many unmentionable hygiene needs.

We will return to our regularly scheduled blogging on July 7th.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fixodent and forget it. Not.

As some of you might know I've been experiencing some dental trauma over the course of the last two months.

Back in April, the bridge that had been in my mouth for close to thirty years, fell apart. The plan was to replace it with state of the art dental implants that would have cost almost as much as a year's worth of college tuition. But, as it turns out, a 3D X-Ray of my entire skull made that prospect impossible.

Seems I have a rather large vein that runs the length of my upper jaw. That vein obstructs the bony marrow for the implant base. It would be like posting caissons in quicksand.

Consequently, I'm back to Plan B, which is replacing the old bridge with a new one. Until that new bridge is built, in a laboratory somewhere in the South Bay, I have been wearing a temporary.

I use the word 'wearing' purposefully. In order to denote its flimsy day-to-day nature.

You see while the temporary bridge felt sturdy and up to the task, last week while swimming, the bridge snapped in two. I had no choice but to hightail it over to the nearest Pharmacy to purchase a tube of Fixodent.

Nothing will age a 44-year old man faster than stepping up to the cashier at a CVS with a tube of Fixodent. Good thing I don't suffer from incontinence and require a box of Depends.

Lately I've been eating only very soft foods. Last week, we were at The Counter and I'm here to tell you the bacon cheeseburger doesn't taste half as good when it's pureed and sipped through a straw.

The Fixodent hasn't helped much. The two-piece broken bridge has been falling out repeatedly and rolling around in my mouth like a pair of sticky Las Vegas dice from a dirty craps table.

I'm sure you feel as I do that the new permanent bridge cannot go in fast enough.

That way we can stop talking about my teeth.
And get back to the biting essays on advertising.

Did you see what I did there?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Friendly Fire

One of the tropes large ad agencies like to trot out to their global clients is their "vast international host of creative resources and assets."

This, along with their mastery of social media and emerging digital platforms, is simply laughable.

Served up from the same industrial-sized vat of bullshit that gave birth to the open office plan and its resultant "increased collaboration and architecturally-induced sparking of new ideas and next generation thinking."



Years ago, when I worked at Chiat/Day, my partner and I were often sent to the NY office to help out on pitches and assignments. We often flew business class. We often stayed at the SoHo Grand. And we often abused the hell out of our per diems.

"I'll have a double shot of your 18-year old single malt. And for dinner, I'd like your second most expensive steak stuffed inside your most expensive steak."

It was sweet.

But it wasn't very productive.

When we strolled into the office we were met by glares and enough territorial rage to fuel the #7 line all the way to Flushing.

The NY staffers didn't want us there. They didn't want our help. And they didn't want to hear stories about how cool it was to work alongside Lee Clow.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, I understand why.

Years later, I took a position with Y&R, where the perverted concept of inter-office collaboration was twisted beyond recognition.

When I was hired I was under the impression that we, the Irvine office, would be in charge of the Jaguar account. What I found out was, every ad, every idea, every campaign, was a jump ball. Not with other agencies. But with the Y&R office from London.

Every three months or so, a team of their whiskey-sodden wankers would pop across the pond and share with us their latest gems.

And instead of expressing their gratitude for bailing them out of World War II and saving the British Empire from a 1000-year Reich of soggy sauerkraut and secondhand schnitzel, these dentally-challenged chaps took a massive dump on all our work. And they did it in that grating British voice that clearly justified the first shots at Lexington Concord.

If memory serves I believe Ian or Nigel or Winthorpe referred to our ideas as "groaners."

Surely you think I'm exaggerating and telling this story for self-serving purposes. But thanks to Google search I was able to locate an image that will give you an idea of the kind of work generated by Y&R's "vast international host of creative resources and assets."

That's right.

The lads from London, or as I liked to call them, the Hacks from Hounslow, wanted to do an entire campaign of Jaguars painted like Jaguars.

To their credit they hadn't proposed illustrating the Jaguar face on the bonnet. You know, because they wanted to keep it classy.

Next time you hear the words global and collaboration, do yourself a favor, walk in the other direction.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Homeless in Culver City

I have the good fortune of living about a mile and half away from the tortuous stairs at the Baldwin Park Scenic Overlook. These stairs were made famous by the Apple ad that can be seen here.

I love these stairs, not only for the aerobic workout, but for the quiet and solitude one can find at the top and on the back trails on the way down.

The other day I grabbed a water bottle and set out for the Overlook.

About 1/4 mile into my walk I noticed my shorts were slipping. I like to think it's because I'm shedding a few pounds but it's more than likely that I bought the wrong shorts.

I knew the rest of the walk wouldn't go well if I didn't find a way to hitch up my pants. So I did what any fan of shows like Survivorman, Life Below Zero, and Naked and Afraid, would do, I turned to Mother Nature.

I spotted a bush covered in solanum jasminoides, white potato vine, which is indigenous to California.

I pinched off a couple of yards of vine and made me way to an alcove in front of one of the industrial businesses along Jefferson Blvd. I carefully pruned the vine of it leaves and vinelets and then started threading it through the loops in my shorts.

I wasn't going for that whole "connected to the land" feeling, I just didn't want my thighs to chafe.

As I was fashioning the belt, two older African American woman emerged from the building.

My do-it-yourself habberdashering caught their immediate attention. They didn't avert their eyes. And they didn't hide their misguided assumptions.

(please excuse the politically incorrect intonations, I believe it makes the story funnier)

"Letitia was telling me she came out of her office in Santa Monica and there was some bum sleeping in the doorway."

"What she do?"

"She told him, 'you can't be sleeping here.'"

"Oh gurrrrrl."

"Then she be like on the phone making like she be calling the po-po."

"That man best be moving."

"Oh he did. He move fast."

There was no mistaking it.
They had mistaken me for a homeless man.

I could have pointed out my $120 Asics running shoes. Or the expensive gold wedding ring. Or the designer water bottle my wife is fond of purchasing. Or I could have taken out my iPhone and shown them a picture of the obscenely overpriced home owned by this homeless man. And the bank.

But I decided against all that and let them go on their way with their preconceptions.

And I went on my way. Thanks to my non-sagging shorts, I reached the top of the stairs in record time.

When I returned home, my wife took one look at me, now sweaty and even more disheveled, she spotted my potato vine belt and said…

"Look at you. You look like a homeless person."

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Cannesgover

If you happen to be employed in advertising you know today is the Worst. Day. Ever.


Because today the adverati return from Cannes. Most will come home empty-handed, but full of glory-hungry piss and vinegar. They watched as the Brazilians and Europeans carted off a suitcase packed with lions and vowed to return next year with work that would knock your $200 Fedora off.

And so today, the creatives who didn't go to France to lounge on a yacht, sip rose and pontificate about the holistic integration of Instagram, Twitter, and wearable anklet computers, the ones who banged out the sales events, the statement stuffers and the e-mail blasts that keep the lights on, will get an earful.

You know what I'm talking about: The Pep Talks.

Years ago we would have been herded into the conference room. But now, since we all sit at the community table or the SuperDesk, the flagellation…er, motivational speeches can be administered out in the open.

"We have to be smarter." 

"We have to work harder."

"We have to generate ideas faster."

"We have to create work that can stand up to the myopic scrutiny of MBAs and have people in focus groups exclaiming, 'that spot has to be made.'"

Stop me if you've heard this before. Chances are you have. And you'll hear it again next year. Because the powers that be in advertising, the ones who graced you with a 2 inch high Eiffel Tower souvenir from their annual French boondoggle, are averse to change.

The only change they're interested in is an upgraded suite at the InterContinental Carlton in 2015.

But I'm an outsider now.
And have no vested interest in vesting. Or ladder climbing.
And, perhaps blindly, no fear of retribution.

So here's my humble but deadly-accurate prescription, for agencies that want to win awards at Cannes.

1.) Pink Slip The Planners -- You show me a creative team that can't figure out a distinctive market insight and I'll show you a team that doesn't deserve a Cannes Lion. Or a job for that matter.

2.) Put Creatives in Charge -- The final say on what goes out the door and sold to the client goes to a Creative Director.  Not a CEO, a CMO, or a CFO. Or worse, a committee of all the aforementioned.

3.) Never say the words Social and Media in the same sentence -- Banners, tweets, mobile apps, Facebook updates, page takeovers, kickstarters, Tumblrs and Foursquare friend finders have never sold a single widget, dohickey or whatchamacallit. They never will. Stop. Just stop.

4.) Make with the Funny -- With the exception of Barton Graf and the agency where I am currently employed, there are few folks doing work that's genuinely funny. Not wink worthy. Or smile inducing. People want work that makes them laugh. Where are the Evil Beavers?

4a.) Hire a crusty Old Time Writer -- In the 10 years I've been freelancing I haven't been to one agency that couldn't benefit from an old timey writing guy. Or gal. Who knows how to put one word in front of another and bring back the art of persuasion.

5.) Finally, Burn the Community Table -- Writers and art directors need offices. Real offices. Give them the ones formerly occupied by the Planners.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Clueless Among Us

One of the first lessons you are taught in the martial arts is the concept of Environmental Awareness. 

You are less likely to be attacked if you know where you are. 
Who you are with. 
And your position within your surroundings.

This concept is lost on imbeciles who insist on texting while cruising down the 405.

Environmental awareness is also lost on my next door neighbor, owner of two vicious pitbulls and two monster pick up trucks that for some reason need to be washed every three days, despite California’s severe drought.

Last weekend, for instance, he thought it would be a good idea to go to the garage at 2:30 AM, fire up his noisy Kawasaki racing bike and open up the throttle until the tires kicked off a noxious white cloud of smoke that would cover Pacoima.


The lack of environmental awareness knows no class lines.  Earlier this week I was at the very tony Bristol Farms, where tuna fish salad is commonly referred to as albacore pate.

I had just finished swimming and was rushing to get back to the office. Because I like to think of myself as conscientious and punctual.

A young woman was at the register before me. In the most polite terms, she was a Chatty Kathy. She started squawking away with the cashier.

"Do you know where Brian is? You see I'm going to a party for my friend who just graduated from LMU Law School and I wanted to buy her a bottle of good champagne. I know she doesn't like sweet wine, but I didn't want get something too dry. I don't know much about champagne and I just picked a bottle because it has a pretty label. I wish Brian, the assistant manager were here."

"I think today is Brian's day off," replied the cashier.

"Oh, I was really hoping to get his expertise."

"Like I said, today is his day off."

I had just come out of the pool and was enjoying an endorphin high. Plus, some work had been approved earlier that morning and the stock market was trending up, so I was more than willing to indulge her inquiry. Which went on for quite some time.

Then the cashier spotted the grocery manager who was walking behind me.

"Oh Lou. Maybe you can help this young lady, "said the cashier.

"Hi, I'm going to a party for my friend who just graduated from LMU Law School and I wanted to buy her a bottle of good champagne. I know she doesn't like sweet wine, but I didn't want get something too dry. I don't know much about champagne and I just picked a bottle because it has a pretty label. I was hoping Brian were here..."

I kid you not. 

She launched into the entire long winded story once again. 

I was trapped in vortex of cheap champagne chitter chatter.

I shot her an unmistakable look. 

A look that said in no uncertain terms you have no right to waste my time, nor the time of the people behind us in line. Go on Google, do your research, hunt down Brian while he's fishing at Lake Cachuma, but don't hold up everybody up, on their lunch hour, because you couldn't track down the supermarket sommelier.

She sensed my rising pulse and grudgingly offered me to let me go in front of her. 

And then when I thought she couldn't do anything to make herself more odious, she placed her hand on my elbow and said in a very soft passive aggressive tone…

"I hope the rest of your day goes better."

And I hope your friend pokes your eye out with the cork.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rocky Horror Picture No

If you've come to this post expecting a glowing nostalgic romp about this cult movie classic of the 70's I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.

Truth is, I've never seen this movie. And frankly never will.

Let's travel back in time. The year was…oh, that's not important. I had just got out of my junior year in college. I knew I'd be working for the summer, I just didn't know where.

Syracuse or Suffern? Not the juiciest options, I'll grant you.

So I packed a duffel bag, grabbed my last $100 and bought a one way ticket to Los Angeles. Hell, they had restaurants out there, I could sling hash in the warm California sun.

And so I got myself a room as a boarder at one of the local fraternity houses on the campus of UCLA.

It was cheap. It was clean, er somewhat clean, and it was blocks away from Westwood which was teeming with blond waitresses hoping to be models/actors. There was nightlife. There was hustle. There was bustle. Did I mention the blond waitresses?

A week later, my buddies Jim and Bob, who also had no particular plans for the summer moved into the frat room.

Within days, we each secured jobs, a reliable weed connection and the largest room in the frat house overlooking Gayley Ave. We were living like kings. As much as three dumb 21 year old kids can live like kings. We still had to share the broken toilet down the hallway with everyone in the house. But in our minds, we were masters of our own domain.

And then they moved in.

A white trash couple from the Florida Panhandle, a phrase dripping with redundancy. They drove up in a VW van that had seen better days. The frat house manager assigned them to our room, which was designated to sleep five. We assigned them to the top bunk of a rickety ass bed that wouldn't survive a 4.3 earthquake.

We took an immediate disliking to Corey and Lori from Florida. Mostly because they were into Cosplay before Cosplay was even a thing.

Every Saturday night they would dress up like two of the characters from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Jim once made the mistake of asking them about the film. Their explanation included singing and dancing.

Which only made us dislike them more.

And every Saturday night they would return from the Rocky Horror Picture midnight showing at 3 or 4 in the morning. You might think that modesty would have prevented them from engaging in any amorous activities with three obnoxious guys from Northern New Jersey in the room.

But folks who put on stage makeup and cross-dress are not big on modesty.

So while they did the Tallahassee Tassle, we did what only seemed natural, we'd turn on the lights, throw on some shorts and fire up the bong. I'm sure we razzed Corey about his less-than-stellar lovemaking.

Those were heady times. And I don't think I've ever laughed harder than my first summer in LA. Maybe that's why I came back after graduating college.

My daughters are approaching that liberating age. I hope they have at least half as much fun as I did. I want them them to do odd things, explore unusual places, and get outside of their comfort zone.

Just not with a guy from Tallahassee who dresses like Riff Raff.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Open for Business

So you want to hang a shingle and start an ad agency of your own?

Who can blame you? All that glamour. All that creativity. All those eager visionary clients yearning to leverage this new media landscape and change the world with their longer-lasting ink cartridges, their artisinal mayonnaise and their Venetian blind chord detanglers.

These are exciting times indeed.

And as my friend Mark Fenske opines, there's never been a better time to open your shop. The light is green. He's a professor of advertising so he knows what he's talking about.

You may even have the space picked out to hatch your grand scheme. Maybe a tool shed or a converted garage.

You're all set right? Well not exactly.

God may be in the details, but success is in the preparation.

Let's face it, you just can't go out there and start making ads for people and then charge them up the ying yang for ideas that could easily be churned out by a bunch of clever 5th graders. Well…you could. But let's not diss all those game-changing digital boutiques out there.

The point is, if you're going to start an agency it's good to have a library of knowledge at your disposal. Manuals that will help you navigate the unchartered and sometimes unpaid waters that lie ahead.

You've come to the right place:

There you have it.

With any luck your fledging agency will be acquired by a big holding company and you'll be jetting off to Cannes to rub shoulders, and over-inflated biceps, with this guy

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ten Years After

As some of you may have seen on, this week marks my 10th anniversary as a freelancer.

I’ve never held a job for any greater length of time. 

Previous to that I did a 6-year stint at an agency but was unceremoniously shown the door.
Or pink slipped.
Or shit canned.

Not for writing condescending emails to the head client without bothering to use capital letters.

Not for going AWOL in the middle of $100 million pitch.

Not for chasing tail (XY or XX).

Or taking up permanent residence at the Crown Royale.

These practices, I've come to learn, are all acceptable employee behavior at many of the big holding companies.

Demanding excellence, stirring the pot, pushing back on clients, speaking the brutal honest truth, I learned the hard way, are 'rightful cause for termination.' 

Silly me.

Needless to say it comes as quite the surprise that I’ve managed to stay afloat as a freelancer for more than a decade and have never suffered a dry period lasting more than 2 weeks. Quite impressive, particularly when you consider how many folks I have cheesed-off with this occasionally incendiary blog.

Other freelancers will attest, that is highly unusual as well.

How do I explain the longevity? It’s simple really. I focused on what I believe I do best: coming up with ideas and writing. And I excised what I did worst: navigating corporate bureaucracy and career climbing.

Ambition, it turns out, is a curse.

As a result I’ve made myself useful to agencies and clients who often find themselves needing someone useful. As a friend and former boss put it, “Siegel is always good for a solve.”

I don’t think a freelancer could hope for a better compliment.

How shall I mark this auspicious event? Years ago, a friend of mine completed 20 years of faithful service at one agency. He gave them his all. Nights, weekends, vacations, were all sacrificed for the good of the agency.

After two decades of unrivaled commitment they bestowed upon him a beautiful satin jacket.

These satin jackets were quite the fashion item at the time. And were worn exclusively by Hollywood A-listers. And Key Grips. I remember my friend walking through the hallways, peacocking that magnificent satin jacket, and inspiring widespread jealousy that must have lasted all of 3-4 minutes. Tops.

Maybe I’ll buy myself a satin jacket. 

Or maybe with an extravagant lunch at the Olive Garden or Red Lobster with the endless breadsticks, I can convince my buddy to part with his.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

South of the Border

There are certain things I look for in a Mexican restaurant.

Most of them have nothing to do with food.

I want to hear ranchero music. Not piped in through some high fidelity system with the latest quadraphonic K9000 stereo speakers.

No. I want it blasted from the kitchen. On an AM-FM radio. With a crooked coat hanger fashioned into an antenna.

I want authentic Mexican art. Not the crap sold to tourists down on Olvera street. Or anything whitewashed enough to make it gringo-friendly or Epcot Center appropriate.

I want Dia de Muertos in all its jagged uncomfortable beauty. I want skulls. I want angry looking men with mustaches bigger than my own. I want crucifixes, lots of crucifixes. I want art hung by a guy who was going for symmetry but didn't have the tools or the patience to achieve it.

I want hot-tempered restaurant workers who yell at each other in Spanish. The kind of Spanish that I understand…

"Chinga su madre."

"Chupame mi verga."

"Me cago en todo lo que se menea!"

And I want a salsa bar with a full accompaniment of intimidating raw peppers.

Jalapeños are nice, if you're 7 years old. Serranos have some kick, but are actually best when fried in salt and butter. Habaneros are what I'm looking for. I like the exotic ones grown in the Hunucma region of the Yucatan for maximum burnosity.

Granted, I've built up a tolerance and have what many call an iron gut. But habaneros are the only peppers that meet my high standards.

They're hot twice.

On entry.

And on exit.

If a Mexican restaurant has all that, and Pinches in Culver City does, the food has to be good. Because the only way to make authentic Mexican food bad is to make it unauthentic.

Oh yeah, my mamma didn't raise no fool, there's one more thing I look for.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

We got to get out of here

Roaches freak me out.

The sight of one turns me into a frightened, screeching 7-year old girl. You can imagine my level of skeeviness when last week in my bathroom, while standing up and returning some beer to the Pacific, I spotted a roach inside the Kleenex box that sits by the toilet.

He was rather large, about 2 inches in length and had set up himself rather cozily atop the next tissue to be drawn from the box.

I finished my business and then rather gingerly lifted the entire box and made a beeline for the trash can in the driveway, because the thought of him slipping out and crawling over my hand put me at DefCon 5.

Upon return, I told my wife what had transpired and she said, perhaps not thinking the thing through…

"Why did you throw out the whole box of tissues?"

"Really?" I replied, "would you want to use one of the remaining tissues in the box?"

That ended that inquiry.

Momentarily at least. Because then came the follow up question.

"Maybe we should get an exterminator?"

One cockroach, and these are the big lone wolf kind not the type that travel in disgusting swarms like the ones seen in a NYC apartment or a horror movie, one sole cockroach gets in the house and it happens every three months or so, and the next thing my wife wants to do is spend $1000 to have a guy in a white jump suit spray the house with the same dead-dead-dead juice I can get in a can for $3.99 at the local supermarket.

This isn't about bringing a gun to a knife fight. This is about bringing a tactical nuclear weapon to a knife fight.

I'm surprised she didn't suggest selling the house.

Not that I'm completely unsympathetic.

Like I said roaches freak me out, but they have a Kafka-esque effect on my wife and change her from a cool, calm and collected individual into a someone less calm, less cool, less collected who will leap atop the coffee table screaming...

"Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!"

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Invasion of France

France is all abuzz right now.

It has nothing to do with the 70 year anniversary of D-Day.

Oh sure that was big. A bunch of soldiers landed on a beach and fought some German dudes, but did any of them launch a killer mobile platform? Or rewrite the way transactions can be accelerated via the cloud? And where are their banner ads? And case studies?

No, the big to-do in France is on those other beaches.
On the Mediterranean.
Cannes, motherfucker, Cannes.

Right now, as you are reading this, our industry's elite creative class are gearing up for the annual pilgrimage. Trilby hats are being custom-fitted. Plaid shorts are being paired up with laceless loafers. And V-neck T-shirts are flying off the shelves in every douchebag emporium from the north side of Williamsburg to the south.

I don't want to come off as some old bitter cynic -- ok, maybe it's too late for that -- but these awards and the millions of dollars spent on them is nothing more than navel-gazing jackoffery.

Of course, I didn't always feel that way.

There was a time in my career when I scratched and clawed to get my way into a One Show book or a CA Annual. And I have a boxful of hardware and cheap industry trinkets to show for it. It sits in my garage next to the box of snorkel gear we use every three years or so.

But not only has my perspective on these awards has changed, the value of the awards has changed as well.

And I blame the Media Department. Wait, what?

360 degree approach.
Holistic, agnostic media platforms.
These are all curses foisted up today's aspiring copywriters and art directors.

Back in the day (don't you love it when 44-year olds toss out terms like that?) you did a TV campaign, some print, some outdoor and maybe a radio spot. If the work was good and it won awards, the art director and the copywriter could lay legitimate claim to the authorship.

But now, there are UX people, coders, banner makers, page take overers, digital strategists, flip-flak confibulators, ad nauseum. And when awards are won, everyone wins. Except the people who did the hard work of coming up with the idea. Their contribution has been marginalized by some egalitarian precept that states, "we're all creative."

It's devaluation by dilution.

As a result you've got some kid who might have a done a banner ad for the Honda Grrrrrr campaign, showing up at job interviews whistling the tune as if he or she had written it. Next thing you know he's the new CCO.

Maybe there's a business idea in here. Just as there are websites that will do background checks on possible dating partners, I could create a similar business that would suss out the creative credentials of many a job applicant.

From what I can see many agencies ought to pay dollar for that kind of service.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Can I work in?

As you can see, I'm back at the gym.

No, that's not a selfie.

For the last 7 years I had been swimming, 5 days a week, at the Playa Vista Condo Complex. They have an outstanding outdoor heated pool that is virtually unused by the complex's 7500 residents. On many occasion I found I had the whole pool to myself. If it weren't for guard by the gate I would have taken advantage of the solitude and swam in the buff.

But last week, much to my dismay, my brother up and left for an apartment in downtown, so he wouldn't have to commute on the Santa Monica freeway.

There are many things we Angelenos do to avoid spending time on the freeway. I'd let them amputate one of my toes for example if it meant never having to get on the 405.

Fortunately there is an LA Fitness Center right across the street from Playa Vista. And they have an outdoor pool. A more crowded pool with cloudier, dirtier water, but a pool nonetheless.

So I did what I swore I'd never do again, I joined the gym. I know in Los Angeles they like to call them health clubs, but for this upstate New Yorker they're gyms. And I hate gyms.

My aversion to gym culture was grown right here in Southern California.

Years ago, I worked next door to the Gold's Gym in Venice. This was, and is, the Mecca of bodybuilding. Chiat/Day employees were offered a 50% discount on memberships so I opted in and spent my lunch hours grunting it out with guys who eat metal plates for breakfast.

It was quite humbling.

Once, on a shoulder day, I was benching somewhere between 225-235 lbs., a woman with a jaw that looked like one of those cement barriers set outside a foreign embassy in places like Yemen, asked if she could work in with me. She promptly loaded up the barbell with 300 pounds and emasculated me with a simple, "No, I don't need a spot."

Anyway, now I'm back at a gym. With the musty smells.The sleazy salesman. And the mirror-hogging preeners.

Last week, as I was getting dressed, I watched a guy concoct some kind of protein shake in his handheld manual protein shake maker. He carefully measured out the powdered Ornithine, sprinkled in some Arginine, a handful of whey, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and jigger of liquified rhino toenail.

That's the other thing people in Los Angles will do. They'll swallow anything and everything if they think it will make them look and feel younger. Not healthier, younger. You know, for their next glossy 8X10 headshot.

With all the ingredients in the mixer. He removed his shirt, stood in front of the mirror and began shaking the elixir. Not just shaking it. He literally genuflected in what was clearly a well-rehearsed routine. He'd shake the cocktail above his head, then bring it just below his waist. And then, at shoulder height, he'd shake to his left and then to his right.

It was a little Zumba. A little OCD. A little sickening self-admiration.

As you might expect, it went on for minutes. It could still be going on right now.

As I left the gym, I was tempted to make some snarky remark to Mr.Watch-Me-Make-My-Lunch but the guy looked a little like the one in the picture above and I thought better of it.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Vault Week Bonus Edition

Normally I don't put up a post on Friday, but this week is a little different.

You see, after a decade-long search I have finally been able to track down a copy of another low-budget (everything we did for ABC was low-budget) effort featuring the massively talented Steve Shenbaum.

I hounded folks at Chiat/Day for a copy, no luck.

I hounded the art director and copywriter for a copy, no luck.

Finally, I hounded the Director of the spot Stephen Kessler, no luck.

Fortunately Stephen has become a big time Hollywood guy. And has gone on to direct features and documentaries. You might be familiar with his doc on Paul Williams.

Well, like all big time Hollywood guys, Stephen has an entourage. And earlier this week he set one of his ambitious assistants to the task. Lo and behold his resourceful assistant found what none of us could, some high quality quicktimes of the 4 spot series.

Here's my favorite:

Yes, the small boxy portable TV with the channel changing knob dates the spot.

And maybe I'm inhaling my own fumes -- a practice perfected by creatives and even agencies -- but it's work that I still enjoy. I hope you will too.

Finally, another word on Mr. Kessler, since I am now forever indebted to him.

Stephen was part of the old Chiat/Day crew. He was copywriter and part of the team responsible for much of the legendary work that built their storied reputation.

Work that was chronicled in a book Stephen compiled called Chiat/Day The First Twenty Years.

I'm too young (that's not a phrase I get to use too often) to have been included in this edition.

However, I'm hoping Mr. Kessler, or somebody, is hard at work on the follow up book, Chiat/Day The Second Twenty Years. Maybe even some of our late 90's campaigns (ABC, Homestore, Earthlink), will be included.

If that happens, I know how NOT to promote the book.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Vault Week Part Four

If you've ever worked on a restaurant account, and I'm specifically talking to you ad people, you know you have to show the food.

Even though the food in the commercial or print ad looks nothing like the swill you will be served at Chili's, Applebee's or Red Lobster.

In fact, the food you see on TV is often made of plastic or drizzled with some benzene-based liquid that can only be handled by a qualified haz-mat team.

The truth is if you're advertising food, you're in the food porn business.

Many ad agencies find this repulsive and will go to great lengths to build contrived stories around the preparation of the food. Or cheesy testimonials by people who love the food (and the checks they're getting for talking about the food). They'll do anything they have to not to show the food.

And, when they eventually cave in to the demands of the client, they'll have heated arguments with about the food to non-food ratio in the spot.

"Look, it's 17 seconds of food and 13 seconds of people."

"We'd like the spots better if there were 18 seconds of food and 12 seconds of people."

By the way, this is no exaggeration, I've sat in these meetings and witnessed the stopwatch wars.

Years ago, when I was at Y&R, we won the El Pollo Loco account. We turned this well-worn problem into the solution. And embraced the food porn, not as an evil necessity but as a point of differentiation.

We literally filmed citrus-marinated chicken over a flaming grill and captured hours worth of footage from as many different angles as possible. And then used the food footage for the entirety of the spot.

Our reasoning was simple.

First, there wasn't any money in the budget to do a full fledged campaign.

More importantly, we understood the simple stimulus-response mechanics of watching chicken on a grill.

It's impossible to watch and NOT start salivating. Imagine that, restaurant advertising that actually made you hungry.

Apparently that wasn't good enough for our EPL client. Same store sales went up 13.8% in the one year that we had the account. And then, like many stupid clients -- did I say stupid, I meant incredibly fucking moronic -- they put the account up for review.

We did about 75 commercials using the chicken footage. And will immodestly say that every one of those commercials is better than anything El Pollo Loco has put on the air in the last 10 years.

Every one of them.

Here's on my favorites…

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Vault Week Part Three

As you might know, this is Vault Week. Where we reach back into the deep depository of ads gone by and shamelessly relive the glory of the past.

I was lucky enough to have been around for the dot com craze, those wild wooly days when the Internet was in its infancy and clients were rushing to throw their substantial VC money at crazy concepts that would never survive a focus group.

Gerbils flew from canons.

Babies dispensed financial information.

And angry wolverines chewed up marching bands.

Some called it careless, but I posit the best and funniest commercials were done in the late 90's.

At Chiat/Day we had a slew of dot com clients, large and small. We even dealt with one supercilious CEO who decided to bilk investors for millions of dollars. He's now sitting in a Federal Prison and I still can't contain my schadenfreud.

Another one of our clients, a respectable one,,  was an outfit that rated Internet commerce sites, sort of an online Yelp. They didn't falsify revenue and thus couldn't compete with the big boys on TV.

And so we turned to radio -- a lost art form if there ever was one. These days, with commercial free Sirius XM and with channel changing buttons located way too conveniently on the steering wheel, it can be argued that radio doesn't make sense as a media platform.

That's too bad, because I loved doing radio.

I also loved working with the incredibly-talented April Winchell, who helped produce this spot as well as 5 others.

It was great opportunity to play around.

Plus, anytime you get to say "screwed" as a euphemism for fucked over, well that's a good day in my book.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Vault Week Part Two

Today's blast from the past comes courtesy of Bill Hornstein.

This was a little mini-campaign that came in Year Two of the ABC Yellow extravaganza.

After we made hay of defending television and celebrating the general boobiness of the boob tube, we had to get down to the heavy lifting of promoting the shows. This proved to be quite difficult as the shows the network had decided to air were frankly not quite airworthy.

Stilted, stagey sitcoms that had that vitamin aroma one often finds in an home designated for assisted living.

No one was standing around the water cooler the next day talking about the hijinks seen the previous night on shows like Hiller and Diller or Over the Top (which sadly was not an over-promise).

As the agency of record, we were not asked to do the typical slice-and-dice network promos that have become to bladders what Pavlov's bell was to a dog's salivary gland.

The network asked for something more conceptual.

And for better or worse -- worse as you'll soon see -- we rose to the challenge.

It's not easy to promote three crappy sitcoms in twenty seconds and have it ladder up to the Wednesday Night Comedy Showcase that the client had hoped would become appointment TV. Particularly on a budget of $5000.

Check out the first of three spots.

That's right there were two more in this painful series. Thankfully, they're in a part of the vault that is currently inaccessible.

I'll never forget the look on the client's faces when we presented this little trilogy.

"They're not funny," said the client.

"They're not supposed to be. We were going for unfunny." I replied.

"And you have succeeded fantastically."

Monday, June 2, 2014

Vault Week Part One

Today I start Month 4 of a gig I landed way back in February. On my birthday, no less. It was a great present.

The office is close to my house, quite possibly the most important of all job criteria.

I've already produced about a dozen or so spots, though they are of the hard sell, keep-the-revenue- flowing variety.

And the place is buzzing with energy, growth and young people who look at me and wonder, "what Don Draper's grandfather is doing in the building?"

I must be doing something right because they keep extending me. And though I'm not looking for a gig today, there's no reason to let up with the self-promotion. It's the one of many things I've learned in my ten years of freelancing.

If I may mangle Mamet's classic soliloquy from Glengarry Glen Ross, the secret to successful salesmanship is all about ABO.

Always Be Opening.

That is, always be opening new doors to new opportunities. You know, because eventually the folks who currently employ me will tire of my schtick, see through the facade and kick this old man to the curb.

That's not the nature of freelancing. That's the nature of advertising.

In the past two weeks, I've had to turn down work from 3 other agencies. Little confession, as much as I like getting booked on a job, I get a disproportionate amount of satisfaction having to decline it.

You see, it's great to be popular. It reminds me of high school when all the hot girls would beg me to take them to the dance. That might be a little revisionist history, but the point is, and I'm sure most 44-year old writers will concur, it's good to be in demand.

Moreover, the plethora of work allows me to redirect some of the overflow to my copywriter friends. With the hope that one day, one of these losers will repay the favor. Though I'm not counting on it.

And so today, and indeed all week, I'm pimping myself. I'm going to the vault and finding work that I've always been proud of and displaying it for your amusement/ridicule.

The first item I pulled from the Vault is the billboard you see above. It was one of many I did with Steve Levit for Castlemaine XXXX, an authentic Australian beer. And though it won all kinds of rewards I distinctly remember how I struggled with the wording of the idea.

I knew there was good pee-pee joke in there and literally tried dozens of different combinations. We settled on this even though it violates the 7 word maximum for outdoor boards.

It still bothers me to this day. If I could jump in the time machine and go back 20 years, I'd omit the parenthetical phrase and let the reader use some imagination to close the loop.

Of course if I could go back twenty years I also wouldn't have bought a house so close to the freeway.