Monday, April 30, 2012

Suck it Gelberg

Today is April 30. Time for a little self congratulation.

If you look at the accompanying chart you might notice a favorable incline (I'm getting close to the age where all inclines are favorable) in the web traffic. In fact, with more than 5,000 hits this month, we have set a new record.

Granted, some of this month's eyeballs are due to the linking in and the popular April 5th posting of I'm Outtahere. But as many of you advertising people know, I've had quite a few links on that dubious site, so that doesn't nullify today's celebration.

Just to digress a little and set the record straight. They (agencyspy) have in the past referred to me as an old friend. The truth is while I appreciate the additional traffic I'm not a big fan of the character assassination that takes place there and have no affiliation with agency spy other than the occasional linking. The other truth is, I'm not old.

So where do I go from here with all this new website traffic? Like any good copywriter, I decided to do a little more digging. And the news is not so great. According to, I had better keep my day job:

After three years of writing, countless pots of coffee, and valuable time not spent with my family, this damn blog is only worth $442.

That's about $999, 999, 658 away from instagram territory. $442 may be a year's salary for the average Yemeni, but it barely covers the cost to keep this computer churning.

Being overly competitive I took the liberty of looking up the value of blogs written by fellow copywriters.  Even though his writing is better than mine and he has a distinct flair for the dramatic, my buddy Jeff Gelberg and his excellent blog Rotation and Balance, is close to 20 million blogs behind me at:

But we've both got a lot of work to do if we are to ever catch the unmistakable wit of George Tannebaum, whose unique brand of crankiness has netted him $634:

Finally, to complete the comparison and to satisfy my unbearable curiosity I was going to take a look at Kathy Hepinstall, who just to make us all feel like losers has just published her fourth novel.  But for some reason her hilarious blog could not be evaluated. Maybe has some filter that excludes real writers? 

That's OK, because the last thing Kathy Hepinstall needs is more publicity

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lights Out

Last week a friend of mine was on his way to a Jewish funeral, he had never been to one before and was curious as to what we believe viz a vie death. I told him he had called the wrong Jew.

My understanding of the official company line is a bit vague. I know we don't have a heaven or hell. There's no standing at the Pearly Gate. And there's nothing I can recall about violins, clouds and long white robes.

I do remember something about a soul. And getting bound up in God's great book of life. And in order to do that I couldn't eat cheeseburgers, or bacon, or lobster. So I gave up on that tale pretty quickly.

Seeing I was of little help, he asked what I believed and I told him.

I ascribe to the notion that nothing happens. The light switch goes off. You're done. No more conscious after life than you were before it. In fact, why would I believe otherwise? Where is there anything to suggest any kind of afterlife? Moreover, if there are deceased family members watching and looking out for me, why am I having such difficulty with my refi and why does my prescription for Vicodin always run out on Friday afternoon after my doctor has checked out for weekend?

Does this make me a Nihilist?
Unabashedly so.

And the evidence is more in my favor than it is in the Pope. Or the holiest of Imams. Or the beardiest of Rabbis. That's the oddest thing about religion and the existence of God. It is a collection of fables and myths without a shred of physical or visible corroboration.


For those of you that have faith, I wonder, do you believe that when a termite dies he or she goes to heaven or hell? Is there an afterlife for termites? No, that would be silly, you say. Termites are so tiny and insignificant. Our lives and the lives of a common termite are world's apart. Are they?

Even though he was from a second-class lacrosse school like Cornell, Dr. Sagan offers us some beautiful insight on the topic.

I know it's comforting to think that as occupiers of the top tier on the food chain, we have some special place in the universe, however I don't think it is that special. Yes, we have built buildings, created art, composed music, and documented our existence with some panache. But in the grand scope of things, is what we have done any more lasting or of greater import, than what a monkey can create by throwing his own feces at a wall?

I've looked at my own body of work and can honestly, without any hesitation,  say, "No."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Keep On Trucking

I've gone off before about people who text and drive.

In fact, much to my daughter's collective chagrin, I have no problem confronting these imbeciles and in one instance, during stop and go traffic on the 405, came within a hair of getting out of my car and giving some hipster a thorough tongue lashing.

However, in accordance with the 'people in glass houses' maxim, and as the photo above indicates, I'm not above using my iPhone while driving. In my defense, I only did it to document another variety of the douchebag driver.

As you can see, he has skillfully crammed an entire apartment's worth of crap into the back of a sub-compact pick up truck. You would think that someone so adept at packing and logistics might have considered doing the haul in two trips, thereby not putting hundreds of other innocent drivers at risk, but he didn't.

He saw the open flat bed as an open ended invitation to reach for the sky.

And he almost got there. With a couple of bicycles, a baby's crib, an industrial sized desk, and two Weber grills, (which are not visible in the picture so don't go looking). Had it not been for those pesky 15-foot overpasses that criss cross the San Diego Freeway, I'm sure Mr. I-Can-Make-That-Fit would have gone even higher.

By the way, also not in the picture, is this man's family, his wife and two kids shoe-horned into the cab of this tiny truck with their lips pressed against the windshield.

Astute readers of roundseventeen know that I write a regular series entitled People We Should Kill. It's an exercise in thinning our very overcrowded herd. And they may be wondering why this candidate did not make the cut. The answer is very simple.

 I think fate and this driver's discernible lack of intelligence will take of that on its very own.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bring Me the Head of Charles Schwab

Last week I made mention of my recent trip to the offices of Charles Schwab, where under great duress, I had to divulge all my financials mishaps over the course of my lifetime. While it was painful it was also therapeutic. A way to get my financial house in order and rid myself of the investment demons that have haunted me for years.

We all have inner demons. 

Perhaps those of us in the ad industry have slightly more than others. We pour ourselves into our work, and day after day that work is rejected. Or Frankensteined. Or picked apart by a former sorority girl, who now has a degree in advertising and a junior position with a client but doesn't have a clue as to the contributions of Gossage, Bernbach or Jay Chiat. 

It takes a thick skin to work as a creative in advertising. It takes an even thicker skin to look back at the file of all the great ideas that never got produced. That file seems to grow exponentially. 

Here's where these two paths -- Charles Schwab and year's of unproduced work -- collide. 

In 1999, we, that is TBWA Chiat/Day, were asked to pitch the Charles Schwab account. I love pitching new business. It's one of the rare opportunities to hit an unmitigated home run. You start with nothing, no client mandates, no past faux pas, no limitations. And if you win, you come away with new billings, new opportunities, new ways to start losing the business. 

One of the writers on our pitch team was Mike Collado. I actually wrote about him last week and you can see more of his brilliance here. Mike and his partner Cody, had come up with a breakthrough campaign that I will in no way do any justice to. Sadly the campaign never made it past the front door and the good folks at Schwab never had the opportunity to see it.

But thanks to magic of the blogosphere, you will.

While driving himself home from a three day intensive industry conference, Mr. Schwab falls asleep at the wheel. His car careens off a cliff. And he is decapitated. Miraculously, the head of Charles Schwab, the vessel of all that financial acumen, survives. 

A young couple in a pick up truck stops to investigate the carnage. They find the head of Charles Schwab, rescue him and nurse him back to health with ice and aspirin. In return, he tells them the advantages of a diversified portfolio with a balanced mix of asset allocation. They prosper and have the wherewithal to send their three children to college. 

The story doesn't end there. In subsequent commercials, the head of Charles Schwab travels this great nation of ours, dispensing valuable and actionable financial advice to all those who will listen to this disembodied guru. I don't recall the narrative gymnastics of how the head got from place to place. But it did. And anyone who had it, had the means to secure financial independence.

It was the classic 'talking head' campaign. 
And this one, if you'll pardon the pun, had legs.

Sadly, we'll never know if this would have succeeded or not. But riddle me this, can you tell me about the last Charles Schwab commercial you saw? I'm betting you can't. 

The tagline they use is Talk to Chuck. And in essence it's the same strategy, get great advice by talking with Charles Schwab. But it's sleepy and it doesn't have anything memorable, like a decapitation.

And that's the fundamental problem with today's advertising, not enough decapitations.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not that Leo Sayer

My wife and I have lived in our house in Culver City for close to 20 years. It is officially the longest time I've ever spent in one place. In those two decades we've seen people come and go. New owners. New renters. New girlfriends. New dogs. New babies.

Last night my wife and I were out to dinner and we started talking about our neighbor, Leo Sayer.

Not the one-hit wonder who made a splash in the 70's with his "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing." Our Leo Sayer was not a singer or a dancer or an artist by any stretch of the imagination. He just happened to share the celebrity name.

Leo and his wife Doris came to Culver City in the 1950's. They moved here from Middletown in upstate New York. My mother lived in Middletown for many years. Perhaps that's why I felt a connection with them.

Leo, who passed away about 8 years ago, had many admirable qualities. He served in the big war. He and his wife worked hard at MGM studios, which is just up the street from our house. He raised a family of equally conscientious hard workers. And he kept his house  meticulously clean and in perfect condition.

Even in his early 80's, he would nonchalantly fetch an old wooden ladder from his garage -- that featured a hospital-clean workbench and a picture-perfect pegboard with a slot and peg for every tool in his impressive arsenal --and he would climb on the roof to replace a shingle or clean out the gutters.

Up until the day he died, he mowed his own lawn, changed his own oil and marched to his own beat. As I said, he had many admirable qualities.

He also had less-than-admirable qualities. The man with the right tool for every job found himself ill-equipped to deal the changing times. He saw his lily white neighborhood become not so lily white. And made no secret of his disliking for outsiders. My wife and I would play this game and literally time out our conversations with Leo and guess how long it would take before neighborly small talk devolved into a rant about Negroes or Hippies.

His dropping of the N-word was always our cue to go home with a "I think I left something in the toaster oven" type of remark.

Leo is long gone, but his memory is fresh as the many heated confrontations he found himself in with my next door neighbor Pedro, and this is important, who is of Mexican descent.

They fought about cars parked on the street, barking dogs, loud leaf blowers, all the typical stuff that makes neighbors want to call in an air strike on other neighbors. Those battles were often rehashed whenever I'd go across the street to borrow a miter saw or plumbing snake. And I will admit to relishing the neighborhood gossip.

But nothing sums up Leo Sayer better than his retelling of these border skirmishes with Pedro, who Leo perpetually referred to as, "that damn Puerto Rican!"

That still sends the milk squirting from nose.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Mein Fuhrer

Tomorrow is Adolf Hitler's birthday, so I thought I'd tell you about my first and my last trip to Germany.

But first some background.

My father was a belligerent Jew. He would take umbrage at the slightest hint of antisemitism. Though hardly religious or physically intimidating, he would relish the opportunity to put on the gloves and stand up for the Tribe. I think growing up in the hard scrabble South Bronx and spending a year in an Army jail (I'll tell that story a different time) did that to him.

He was also around when the newspapers bore witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Naturally he directed all that anger and turmoil towards Germans or Germany. We didn't drive cars built in the Fatherland. We didn't watch Hogan's Heroes. We didn't even have Bayer Aspirin in the house. (Headaches were for pussies anyway.)

So you can imagine my trepidation when, in April 2001, I was hired to be the Creative Director of the local Kastner & Partners office being assembled in Santa Monica. Kastner & Partners is the agency of record for Red Bull, a chemical-laden stimulant that is brewed in Austria. Before starting the gig, I was asked to fly to Frankfurt, and later Salzberg, to meet the client.

The 13-hour non-stop flight to Frankfurt was followed by a 10-hour day at the office meeting my new Aryan colleagues. To stay awake and maintain a cheerful disposition, I chugged Red Bulls all day long. At about 10 PM, we were finally dropped off at our "hotel."

But it wasn't an international Hyatt. Or a Hilton. My new boss thought it would be charming if we stayed at the Schlosshotel Kronberg, a Dracula-like castle that was built in 1893 for Empress Victoria Friedrich.

I was escorted up to the 5th floor (that's right, a 5 story castle) and shown my tiny room that for some reason reminded me of Rapunzel.

This is when things started getting ugly.

For the first time in my life I was experiencing jet lag. Not helped in the least by the consumption of three Red Bulls. That unpleasant insomnia was turbocharged by the gut feeling I had made a bad career decision. Not to mention the fact that I was half a world away from my 3 and 4 year old daughters. I was getting claustrophobic. And this was all happening in a country, where a little more than 50 years ago, my ancestors were being dragged from their homes and gassed in ovens.

Even as I write this I feel my skin tingling. I didn't know it, but I was having a full blown panic attack. Something I had never experienced before.

I tried to calm myself by turning on the TV. That did not help as all the programming was in German. And try as I might, every piece of dialogue seemed to contain the phrase, "Achtung Juden."

So I left my room and walked the hallways of this majestic castle. That didn't help much either. As the hotel's curator had lined the hallways with statues and paintings that celebrated the rich Teutonic past.

Lots of skulls, knives and medieval torture devices. This did little to dissuade of my perception of Germans as dark, militaristic and given to the taste of blood. Particularly of the Hebraic variety. 

Finally, I went down to the hotel bar, hoping to bourbonize myself to sleep. But sour mash is no match for Taurine, one of the 131 stimulants in Red Bull. Besides, it's difficult to nod off when you're convinced a pack of Bavarian wolves is about to burst through the door for its midnight feeding.

So after a night of cold sweats and no sleep, I was onto Day Two of more client meetings. Naturally, I had trouble keeping my hungover eyes open. Fortunately, there was an endless supply of energy drinks to keep me going.

The second night was a horrific repeat of the first. The next morning, following 54 hours of being awake, I followed my body's lead and aborted the trip. And the job. (Which in retrospect was the right decision.)

I remember collapsing at the American Airline's Admiralty Club and waking up on the plane hours later sitting in first class. A chatty Japanese woman was seated next to me. She started telling me all about her vacation and her moving experience at Dachau.

She gushed about the visit and said, "It's a magnificent museum. You really have to go there and feel it firsthand."

Yeah, I thought, that's probably not going to happen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chemistry 357

I fear I've been overstaying my welcome lately.

The posts over the last month have grown quite wordy. Today will be mercifully short.

Last week was Parent Teacher conference night at the high school. As I was chatting with my oldest daughter's chemistry teacher I noticed she had displayed the latest project all around the room. The students were asked to assemble a large collection of their favorite "things" on a poster that resembled the Periodic Chart of Elements.

There were TV shows, football teams, classic cars, flowers and candy bars. The kind of things you'd expect from 10th graders.

Then there was the chart pictured above. I asked about the student who was fond of Glocks, Tech 9's and AK-47s. The teacher assured me he was a nice young man who was pleasant as can be.

I gritted my teeth and smiled accordingly.

When I came home I told my daughter I wanted her to request a new seating assignment in the class.

Somewhere close to a window.

Or the exit door.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Post Post

Recently I just finished work on a new set of TV commercials for the Acura RDX. It was a great opportunity to do some spots with special effects, which I rarely do. Work with some very talented British directors, Dom and Nic. And spend quality time in some fancy Westside edit bays.

And anybody who works in advertising knows, the latter is the real reason any of us got into this business in the first place.

You see at the edit facilities, where the film is cut, the sound is recorded and the special effects are effected, writers and art directors are treated like kings and queens. It's a magical world filled with impossibly attractive young women, omnipresent deference and in-house chefs eager to prepare elaborate breakfast delights with exotic meats and fresh farm-picked herbs.

As a freelancer, I'm not often involved in production, so this was pleasant reminder of days gone by.

Of course it wasn't always like that.

When my partner, John Shirley, and I were in charge of the ABC account we had a chance to do a lot of fun work. Most people remember the big yellow outdoor boards that blanketed the cities. What most people don't remember is that in the span of one year we produced more than 75 TV spots for ABC. All of them produced for a combined cost of less than one of the aforementioned Acura spots.

How did we do it? Well, one of the joys of having a media company as a client is the "opportunity" to save money and use their production facilities. You'd expect ABC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Disney company, to possess the finest in state of the art production facilities.

You'd be wrong.

A trip to their Silverlake campus was, as my partner once put it, a trip behind the Iron Curtain. Akin to visiting Czechoslovakia in the late 1960's. It was dirty. It was primitive. It lacked any of the qualities that made post production a joy.

One time, we met with the editor, handed him the film and told him what we were looking for. The sausage,...editor turned around and said he'd have a rough cut for us in 30 minutes. 35 minutes if we wanted it to be title-safe.

I also remember a voice-over recording session where the engineer, the talent and myself were all in the same room. There was no sound proof booth. We literally held our breath for 30 seconds as he gingerly read into the microphone.

I hated it then, but I'm proud about it now. Because we turned these limitations and obstacles on themselves and used it as inspiration for work that still stands the test of time.

James Cameron spent over $200 million dollars to make a movie about the Titanic. Here's how we did it for $13,000.

Update: it should be noted this spot was written by the great Michael Collado. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Good To Be Rich.

I'm Rich.

OK, by name only. It's an old joke that always comes up at parties, business meetings or any function that requires an introduction.

And while I'm not cruising the freeways in a Bentley or teeing off with my custom-fitted TaylorMades at the Beverly Hills Country Club, I am rich in family, friends and health. Did I just write that? Soon I'll be penning blogs for some touchy-feely Venice Eggplant and Tofu Co-Op.

The truth is, it's difficult to write about money.
It's hard to even talk about it.

Last week, after 15-20 years of procrastination, I finally sat down and talked with a financial advisor at Charles Schwab. I had to divulge every detail of my financial life. This was very awkward considering that 5 minutes prior to walking in his office, this man was a total stranger to me.

But he had an MBA, he wore a nice white shirt and tie and his office was well over 400 square feet.
Large enough in fact, that he could situate his desk in a kitty-corner position. I don't know about you, but to me that says success.

Then my real financial ignorance began to show.

He asked how I had decided to pick the mutual funds I had bought into in the early nineties.  I confessed to being a victim of my own occupation and that I was easily swayed by packaging and the power of a good brand name. Morningstar ratings be damned, I told him, I'm a sucker for funds like Windsor, T. Rowe Price and J.P. Morgan.

Names that wreak of old 19th-century gentile money. Names that conjure up images of industrial magnates with top hats, fat cigars, and short-skirted French Maids.

He rolled his eyes and started looking over my financial statements and the returns of my measly investments. I'm pretty sure at this point he was thinking to himself, "This half-Jew, half-Scot could be the most financially-inept man in the world.  And could single-handedly debunk the myth of Worldwide Jewish Banking domination."

Then he scooted in closer to his desk, adjusted his glasses and began to roll up his sleeves.
Which I took to be a very encouraging sign.

(UPDATE: For the record that is not my wife and I in the picture above. I don't own any grey board shorts.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Arms on Fire

I love my job.

I love being able to say I love my job because I know there are very few people in the world who can.

Make no mistake, it has taken me a long time to reach this point in my career. But currently I make a decent living. I work in a great office in Santa Monica. There's an indoor pool in the building where I can swim at lunchtime. There's no politicking in the office. And most importantly, I work with a bunch of folks I've known and respected for a very long time.

And we laugh. A lot.

We also pull pranks on each other. In fact, if one of them reads this, I know it will be turned against me in some mean, but harmless, way. I'm OK with that because I relish the justification for a payback.

Of course having a job I love reminds me of the jobs I didn't love.
And here comes the explanation for the photo.

In between summers of my sophomore and junior years of college I started working in the kitchen at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, NY. I could have put my restaurant experience to use and worked at one of the local eateries but because the hospital was run by the Catholic church and because the unions had some say in the working conditions, Good Sam was paying a dollar more an hour than the minimum wage. At $3.62/hour, I thought I had hit the jackpot.

I didn't.

The first day I showed up, I was given a locker, free use of all the hospital scrubs and a set of arm's length rubber gloves (not unlike the ones in the picture). Then I was told how the kitchen crew rotates responsibilities on a weekly basis. One week I'd be cooking. One week I'd be prepping. One week I'd be doing tray pass. But this week, I'd be scrubbing pots.

I was led to a an industrial sized sink. It was split in two. On the left side of the sink, the pots would soak in sudsy, very hot water. The right side of the sink was for the rinse water. But not just any rinse water. There was a heating element at the bottom of this sink, which was about 1/2 the size of a bathtub. The heating element was to be turned on at all times. And the water on the rinse side had to maintained at a scorching 190 degrees.

Moreover, one of the nuns would come around once an hour to enforce the rigid sanitation standards.

If you hadn't guessed, 190 degrees Fahrenheit is hot. Even through 1/4" thick vulcanized rubber gloves. I was soon to discover how hot, when one of the cooks started yelling for a sauté pan.

There were no clean pans on the rack. And the yelling got louder. There was a sauté pan sitting at the very bottom of the rinse sink but it was not within reach. And the yelling got even louder. So I did what any conscientious young college student would do, I gingerly reached down to snag the pan resting on the heating element. But the impatient cook did not stop yelling.

I was soon to join him in the yelling when my stubby short arms failed me and I leaned over even further into the cauldron of sterile pots. The scolding hot water crested the lip of the rubber gloves and ran down the length of my arms, stinging me from my pits to my fingertips.

What did it feel like? Like Cai Guo-Qiang's Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows.

Suffice to say, it was good thing I was working in a hospital.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is it 4:20 Already?

You might recognize this illustration. It's from the Kama Sutra Indian Sex Guide. As I have noted before, when I tease postings with racy pictures like this, my web traffic goes through the roof. (You can learn a lot from the NY Post.)

Of course I never do it gratuitously. And today is no exception.

A couple of weeks ago I chronicled my journey to "Dr." Catipay's office in West Los Angeles so I could obtain a card and legally purchase "alternative" "herbal" "medication." As someone with a lot of free time on my hand and an unusual sense of curiosity I decided to do some further investigation into "Dr." Catipay's background.

Turns out there's a good reason, actually several good reasons, why this man of medicine is now holed up in a former dry cleaning store on Pico Blvd.

In addition to posting the aforementioned Kama Sutra on the hospital bulletin board, he also posted an article about a man who killed his wife. Editorially adding, "This happens when wives talk too much. They never learn, they never stop. Why?"

I can understand management's displeasure with the former, but I'm a bit unclear on the latter.

Indiscretions like these might have sent "Dr." Catipay scurrying from the medical field into an alternative late-life career that required little or no skills. He could have become a copywriter or a Congressman. But the libidinous "Dr." was not about to go down without a fight.

He fortuitously combined his less than extensive knowledge of the human anatomy with California's growing liberalization of "herbal" "medication" and is now one of the busiest "doctors" on the westside.

You may have noticed my extensive use of quotation marks throughout this posting. Whenever I talk about this topic, particularly now that it is being seen through the filter of legitimate "medicine", I find myself laughing and needing to qualify every remark.

I also realize that I owe you (at least the faithful readers) a follow up story on my subsequent trip to the "pharmacy" otherwise known as a dispensary. Where, under the knowledgeable guidance of a tattooed "pharmacist" with yard-long dreadlocks, I filled my "prescription". Two grams of with something called ATF -- Alaska Thunder Funk.

I've been meaning to write up that story but keep forgetting to do it.
The "medicine" must be working.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Motown Blues

You've probably seen this line before.

Clint Eastwood breathed life into it at this year's Super Bowl, in a Chrysler commercial that made all the headlines. And the folks at Wieden/Kennedy, the ad agency for Chrysler, have been pimping it for more than a year now. What you don't know is that now famous tagline, which is being merchandised on T-shirts, coffee mugs, backpacks, etc., almost belonged to Chevrolet, not Chrysler.

Wait. What?

The year was 2009. My art director partner, Laura Sweet (a wonderful ex-CD who blogs here and is available for freelance) and I were doing work for Publicis in Seattle. They were in the process of courting Chevrolet and pulling the account away from Campbell Ewald.

The effort was all hands on deck. And for a $600 million account one can understand why. There were weekends, late nights and fast, fast turnarounds. But Laura and I were all too willing to ride the freelance gravy train. Those were heady, well-paid days. And Publicis reaped the rewards. They won the account and celebrated accordingly. (Sadly, the victory didn't last long as months later, the account was yanked and handed to GS&P, but that's a different story.)

At one point in the transition, Laura and I were asked to do a tagline exploration. The goal was to rebrand Chevrolet and give people a reason to believe in American-built cars were as good as the ones being exported from Germany and Japan.

Well, you guessed it, one of the lines we submitted was: Chevrolet. Imported from Detroit.

For reasons that elude me, the Creative Director rejected the line. I don't hold it against him. When you look at 1000 possible tag lines they often blur together and become meaningless. Maybe he thought the line was a bit of an overpromise. It doesn't matter because a tagline is only as good as the work that surrounds it.

I'm not sure what work we would have done around that particular line. I am sure I never would have arrived at that signature piece of music that is now on every Chrysler commercial. I like the music, it feels gritty and urban and Detroit, and it sure sticks in your head, it's just not in my repertoire. Which tells me I need to expand my repertoire.

In the end this story gets filed under the 100 Monkey Phenomena.

In the U.S. there are about 20-30 different car brands. Those brands are handled by different ad agencies. Each agency has about 10-15 creative people coming with ideas for the brand. Writers and art directors, working night and day, saying the same thing about the same cars, everyday of every week of every month of every year. So, in accordance with the theory obviously there's going to be some duplication.

The way I see it, I'm one of 450 monkeys.
I just happened to get snakebit by one of them.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I'm Outtahere

There was a great piece published by the SF Egoist recently. It's written by an art director, usually not a good sign, but in this case it's the exception.

The author, Mr. Linds, offers his unique perspective on life in advertising and the unusual demands it made on his now cancer-shortened life.

Thankfully, I'm in excellent health and therefore cannot muster the depth and insight of Mr. Lind. However I did spend many of my years working at Chiat/Day when it earned its moniker Chiat/Day/Night and have my own opinions on the matter of burning the midnight oil.

I simply didn't do it.

I worked late on occasion, sometimes until 7 or 7:30. And I came in on the weekends for new business pitches, particularly when Lee and Bob were there. But by and large I went home at a decent hour and spent time with my family -- though I'm sure there were times my wife and my daughters wished I had stayed the office.

Did this impede my career progress?


But truth be told I had no interest in palling around with upper management at 10 PM just for the sake of appearing like a good company man. And to be completely honest, I never developed the acquired taste for Kool Aid.

I prefer to believe that my slow advancement was due more to my opinionated opinions and the unfiltered expression of those opinions. In fact, I'm sure there were times many of my colleagues wished I had gone home earlier.

But wait, there's more. You see, I also happen to be a big believer in The Law of Diminishing Returns.

Working late never increased the probability of coming up with the big idea. It reduced it.

Besides, unlike other creatives, I don't mosey in to work at 11 o'clock in the morning. I get in at a decent hour and I make with the funny right away. I don't spend a lot of time cavorting or chatting up it with other employees like it's high school. I put my considerable nose to the grindstone and keep it there until 5. Or 5:30, depending on my caffeine intake.

In the end, like Mr. Linds says, it's all just advertising. TV commercials, print ads, websites, and mobile apps, that are utterly disposable. I've never conflated advertising to be anything more than that. It's simply a way to put food on my family's table. Never to be confused with anything lasting or meaningful.

That, I'll save for my novel.

Which I plan to get back to as soon as I'm done writing some banner ads for a local colonics clinic.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Affect Effect

During my senior year in college I tended bar at Sutter's Mill. The head bartender was a guy named Mike. He was a 6'5" tall skinny black guy who had a swagger about him that made him untouchable. That, and a crew of hulking bouncers who guarded the staff from the nightly melee.

But in retrospect Mike could have, and should have, been the target of much mockery.

You see, Mike wore a silly cowboy hat. A huge leather Stetson that looked like it had been retrieved from the 1870's. The hat was complemented by snakeskin boots. Mike wore the cowboy hat and cowboy boots everywhere he went. And in Syracuse, NY where the temperature can dip into the minus twenties, that's not always the most suitable attire.

It was odd, to say the least. And not because of his race. I know from my 11th grade history class there were plenty of black cowboys. But Mike was from Scarsdale, in Westchester county. On the spectrum of people who might be mistaken for a cowboy I was closer to the real deal than Mike. (My father regularly took me to Cherry Lane Stables to retrieve horse shit for our garden.)

It's clear that the cowboy hat and the cowboy boots were Mike's affectation, which the dictionary tells us is a habit, as of speech or dress, or behavior, adopted to give a false impression.

I live in Los Angeles now, a city consumed by affectations. And because of social media I am now privy to  the affectations of friends, family and former colleagues. They come in all shapes and sizes.

Prized collections of antique salt and pepper shakers.

I don't have any of that. Basically I'm not out to impress anyone. In fact, the 600 or so entries in this blog that detail my shortcomings, my failures and my neuroses, seem to indicate I'm more interested in doing the opposite.

I know nothing of retro-cool 1950's era patio furniture.
I don't smoke a pipe or a hookah.
I don't collect clown paintings or glass eyeballs.
I'm not versed in the lore of the Rat Pack.
I didn't name my children after any weather phenomena or an obscure font or any 17th century poets.
(Hell, I barely know any famous poets and that's only because it's a popular category on Jeopardy)
I don't have a cat named Leica, because they make the best camera lenses.
I don't sleep on a bed frame carved from hand-selected Peruvian teak.
I don't drink bourbon that's been exclusively aged in artisan-crafted Hungarian oak barrels.
I don't buy my groceries from a co-op because they offer their employees full dental coverage and aroma therapies.
I don't drive a vintage car, wear vintage clothing or even own anything vintage. If I do own something vintage, it's only because I haven't thrown it out yet.

I simply am without any affectations. And living here in Southern California, that's quite rare.

Maybe having no affectations is my affectation?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

He's Gonna Blow!

If you've been anywhere near the news last week you heard about Clayton Osbon, a great name for a serial killer if there ever was one. But Clayton didn't kill anyone, at least none that we know of. He was the JetBlue pilot that went off the rails and had to be subdued by an air marshall and several passengers.

If I had been aboard the plane and witnessed the Captain running down the aisle, jabbering on about Al Qaeda, the Apocalypse, and the meaninglessness of life, I think I would been reaching for the drink cart and snapping the tops off those tiny bottles of Jack Daniels.

While the notion of an airline captain intentionally plowing 200+ passengers into the dirt is pretty darn scary, the circumstances surrounding his outburst are actually a little scarier.

On a personal level that is.

You see, prior to his volcanic eruption, Captain Osbon was widely regarded as an industry model. He was a captain's captain. According to one reporter he helped write the guideline book for proper JetBlue pilot behavior. Many colleagues described him as a normal, in some instances, super normal.

In other words, no one saw this coming. Not his friends. Not his family. Not even Clayton himself, who might have looked in the mirror and said to himself, "I'm feeling a little stressed maybe I need to get a puppy. Or go to one of those 'doctors' so I can purchase some calming 'herbal medications' legally."

But he didn't do that. And he snapped. Now it's all over youtube.

This has implications for all of us.
More importantly, it has implications for me.

While generally good natured and quick to a laugh, I have enough self awareness to realize I have a short fuse. I do not suffer foolishness or incompetence very well. I once got terminated from an ad agency not because my work wasn't creative or the clients weren't happy, I got booted from the premises because I had an inclination to intimidate planners and make certain account people cry.

There's a lot of crying in advertising.

I'm also ashamed to admit that once my on-the-job anger manifested itself physically.

This was a long time ago when I was working in the mailroom at Needham, Harper & Steers. Being a mailroom clerk is a crappy job. It's a lot of packing, shipping, schlepping and showing pained deference to every other employee at the agency. It wasn't the lowest rung on the ladder. It was the dirty floor the ladder was placed on.

And the pay sucked too. I believe I was making $800 a MONTH. My rent at the time was $400, so I had to take another job as a short order cook at a jazz nightclub in Santa Monica.

My typical day would start at 8:30 in the morning and wouldn't end until midnight. One night a waitress brought me an order for a roast beef sandwich 5 minutes after I had finished cleaning the kitchen and wrapped up all the perishables.

The open-air kitchen (meaning it was visible to customers) was closed, I told the waitress. She insisted I prepare the meal. I retorted by throwing a ceramic plate against the wall, which not only shattered into a thousand pieces but also shattered the quiet musical interlude by legendary smooth jazz pianist Michael Ruff. (Sadly this event was not captured on video so there is no need to listen to whole song, unless you like this kind of crap.)

Thankfully, those days are way behind me now. And I have this blog to help me vent. Perhaps Clayton, who will no longer be flying planes, should start a blog of his own. I even have a perfect title for him:

The Cabin Has Now Been Depressurized.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Seder Nazi

Passover is coming up this week.

As I look over the past few years, I noticed I've always included an entry about Pesach on roundseventeen. And thought, stealing the jargon of the Haggadah, "why should this year be any different than all others?"

Actually, in the reading of past year's postings I cannot believe I've never made mention of our very own Seder Nazi.

Her name was Judy and she was a friend of a friend of my wife's family. Sadly, Judy passed away a few years ago, but she was always a welcome guest at our seder table. Not only because it was the right thing to do, but because having Judy at our Seder always produced unforced laughter.

Let me back the story up a bit and tell you that Judy was an intellectual. She taught art history or English literature at one of the local colleges. If I didn't make it a habit of getting soused on red wine to celebrate the freedom of my ancestors every year, I could probably be more specific about her field of expertise.

But I can't, so I won't.

Judy's acumen went way beyond academia. She was equally well-versed in the Hagaddah and the proper procedures of a well-conducted seder. Her somewhat humorless rigor stood in deep contrast to my family's nonchalance and always-present irreverence.

Sitting at the head of the table and not always knowing the proper recital of the plagues or the correct method for hiding the afikomen, I made it a point to always have Judy sit to my immediate left. The second I screwed up a blessing or commenced the ceremonial washing of the hands in the wrong order, Judy was always there to nudge me under the table and keep me from wandering from the script.

She was my mealtime Moses.

When delving into deep theologic waters it's always helpful to have an authority figure ready to right the ship. Though one time Judy did snap at my then six-year-old daughter who let the charoseths accidentally touch the beitzah.

I don't think any of us will forget that.

We miss you Judy. And just as we set out a kiddush cup full of wine for Elijah, we will set one out for you as well. But don't hold it against us if we don't make it all the way to page 29 in the Haggadah for the festive meal.

In fact, I predict we'll get as far page 21 before my oldest daughter, tired of the wisdom of Rabbi Eliazar and Rabbi Gamliel, will whine, "let my people eat." And then we will.

So shall it be written, so shall it be done.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


I don't usually do postings on Sunday.  I like to hold off my efforts until Monday when I can properly promote my blog and get maximum traffic by disrupting people while they are at work.

But today's news is so big I cannot keep it on ice.

After nearly eight successful years as a freelancer, I have decided to hang up my mercenary cleats and rejoin the ranks of the steadily employed and dental insurance carrying class. That's right, I'm going staff.

Why you may ask?

I've been courted by David Murphy, who was President of the Y&R office in Irvine where I spent 2 &1/2 years running the Jaguar Account. David is now Partner and President of Barrie, D'Rozario and Murphy, the 47th largest ad agency in the Twin Cities region. This is a great opportunity to collaborate with my former boss.

Certainly my move to Minnesota will not be anywhere near as lucrative as my free-wheeling freelance days. But David assures me that my standard of living will not suffer. I will be paid in Minneapolis money, which apparently is different than Los Angeles money. The disparity is so overwhelming, I can literally purchase a 4-bedroom, 3 & 1/2 bath lakeview home on 2 acres for less than $7,000.

And while the accounts in the state of 10,000 lakes are not as high profile as some of the recent work I've been doing on Acura, Vizio and the G4 Network, I have been promised autonomy on two of the agency's primo clients: Pete's Parkas and the Minnesota Ice Fishing Tourism Council.

I don't know much about ice fishing but it involves dropping a string.
In a hole.
On a lake.
How hard can that be?

But what clinched the deal was something far more intangible. A chance to fulfill the dream of every creative. Or anybody who has ever toiled in an ad agency. The opportunity to see my name on the door. You see, recently David and his partners took the opportunity to generously recognize the collective contributions of every employee by changing the name of the agency.


I know that is a mouthful, but how refreshing is it that the agency principals want to acknowledge the people who push the rock up the hill every day of the week. And make it possible for the guys at the top to drive their gold-trimmed Maybachs.

Of course I was little concerned that my hiring came after the initial name change had been announced and all the logos and stationery had already been printed. Now an additional S for Siegel will have to be added. I'm somewhat familiar with production costs and I know this new addendum could cost upwards of $50,000, particularly when you consider envelopes, notepads, coffee mugs, invoices, accounts payable forms, time sheets, etc., etc.

But once again David reassured me, "Don't worry about it, Rich. I got a guy in Minnetonka that'll do it all for 38 bucks."