Thursday, December 20, 2012

It was a good year.

Hard to believe another year is in the books.
But it is.
And this will be the last posting.
That is until January 7th, 2013.

Soon, and I won't say when, we, the Siegel Clan, will be off for holiday across the pond. After many years of promising my daughters, I finally bit the bullet and planned a European vacation. OK, that's a bit of a misnomer.

My wife planned the trip. I simply wrote the check.

We will fly into London, spend a week doing touristy crap, then board a train north. To the high country. To Glasgow, where my mother was born and where we still have family. With any luck I'll convince them to speak American, because I can't understand a damn word they say.

There will be a lot of nodding and grinning.

Then we'll cross the island and visit Edinburgh. I might even try to sneak in a round of winter golf there. I know we'll be visiting the castle (pictured above).

From there we'll hop on a plane and spend the remainder of our time with French people.

My wife and daughters are looking forward to the restaurants, museums and architecture in Paris.

I'm looking forward to the many expected confrontations with apathetic waiters, rude chain smokers, and arrogant cheese eaters of many stripes. This will provide me with many stories and future blog entries upon my return.

Until then I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Bon Ani.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Popoff, Please.

My posts about the Peter Popoff Ministries are never the most popular, however I never purported to pander to the populist preferences of the people. Besides, I find this crap amusing even if you don't.

The first item (pictured above) came in the latest mailing and an accompanying letter from the good-hearted reverend stating:

I prayed over and over asking God how I could fulfill Mark 16:18, "They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."

Then God opened my spirit, know I could not come to your home, God instructed me to rush you this Secret Healing Touch Glove.

I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but God's Secret Healing Touch Glove is the cheap angstrom-thick latex glove you'd see on a worker manning the mashed potato station at the high school cafeteria. I'm sure the gloves cost thousandths of a penny and are stamped out in a sweatshop in Laos. By godless heathens, no less.

Rev. Popoff further instructs:

Tonight only, you must put on the Secret Healing Touch Glove and touch your body any place you want God to heal. Then, (and apparently this is very important) you must return the glove to me and I will give you God's prophetic word about your healing.

I knew the Lord worked in mysterious ways but this seems very complicated. Couldn't he just prescribe an antibiotic for this urinary tract infection?

The next item is equally fascinating.

You may be wondering what this is, I know I was.

This is Jesus' Blood Red Miracle Apron. No joke. I'm assuming it's a replica, because I hate to think the Reverend Popoff would entrust an infidel like myself with such an important religious artifact.

Also because it's so damn small (as you can see from the referential quarter). You couldn't tie this apron around a mouse, no less a grown hopeless adult desperately seeking the blessings of the Almighty.

I had never heard of the apron until the Reverend conveniently laid out the scripture:

God, you have used aprons from the hands of Paul in Acts 19. As I lay this apron on my boy, heal him, raise him up and use him for your glory.

Finally, I'd like to show you this:

This needs no explanation. It's the Baruch wallet. It's so nice that the Reverend has appropriated some Hebrew and incorporated it into his scam religion. It gives it that nice old timey, Old Testament sheen of credibility.

I think I can speak on behalf of all Jews when I say, if you crazy goyim want to start up new religions and bilk fellow gentiles out of their rent and food money we'd prefer you left us, our literature and our sacraments out of it. We won't feel slighted. Promise.

What I've shared with you is simply the tip of the iceberg. The thick envelopes stuffed with the Popoff crap continues to flood my mailbox. And I've had to find a separate storage place to keep it all. Of course that's a burden I've taken on myself.

But thanks to our 18th century tax codes and the ridiculous breaks afforded organized religion you have been complicit in the charade.

His mailings to me and my mailings back to him are completely subsidized by the US taxpayer.

If we're going to solve our fiscal woes and walk away from this cliff, we ought to make billionaires pay their fair share. But we also ought to make God cough up his.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Calculus 101

When I tell people I used to work at Chiat/Day they always want to know what it was like to present work to Lee Clow. They presume the experience to be intimidating and nerve-wracking. And to some extent, it was.

But I always found that was more self-induced.

When it came to judging work and whether that work had any merit to move forward, Lee was always surprisingly brief. "Yes." "No." "No." "Yes." "No.""No." "Definitely No."(OK, I'm being generous, there was one Yes for every 20 No's.)

The work that passed the yes/no test was always followed with, "That could be funny", "That could be cool", "That could be interesting." Meaning, this has promise, but a lot more work had to be done.

What I find interesting is how the judging criteria has changed over the years.

You see, I rarely hear those type of phrases anymore.
Today, work gets held up to a different measuring stick: the check list.

"This spot has plenty of innovation, but not enough humanity."

"This talks about our features, but not enough about the benefits."

"This speaks about our heritage, but not enough about our future."

If you work in the Creative Department of an ad agency you know exactly what I'm talking about. A brief may have one single communications message, but a good planner knows how to utilize every inch of white space on a page. So that one overriding message will be buttressed with further requests.

These are cleverly disguised as Tone, Copy Support, or the very threatening, Mandatories.

And just because they're at the bottom of the page doesn't make them any less important.
They're all important.

In the end, a spot that was designed to convey X, must also include mentions of Y and Z, while at the same time implying leadership, innovation, customer service and dependability. The spot may be humorous, but not funny.

When it's all said and done, the brief looks less like a strategy for success and more like a recipe for something you'd never want to eat.

Please bake a cake with following ingredients:

2 lbs. white flour
1/2 lbs. ground beef
4 ounces of milk chocolate
3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper
3 ounces 10W-40 motor oil
8 stalks of celery
A dash of curry
A sprinkling of saffron
A smidgeon of Kosher Salt
A pinch of Plutonium

And we need it by 4 PM.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Let's get the Ban together

Like you, I find myself still reeling from the tragic events of last Friday.

I don't even know where to begin.
The tears come easier than the words.

If you don't have children you can never understand what it's like when you do. And if you do have children you can never understand what it's like when suddenly you don't have them.

Nobody should have to cross that threshold.

Sadly, there are many of those shattered parents grieving in Newtown, Connecticut.

Even sadder, there are empathetic folks walking around today, going about their business, sending their kids to school, who will be in that same exact boat, weeks or maybe months from now, when another miscreant straps on the cammo vest and gets all locked and loaded.

I often look at the dysfunctional Middle East and the constant turmoil in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and think to myself, "What the fuck is wrong with these people? Why can't they learn to govern themselves and get their culture moving in the right direction?"

Today, I'm sure many in first world countries like Japan, England, and Sweden, are looking at us and asking the same questions.

I'm no political activist. And haven't a clue about being a community organizer. But I do have a tool, this blog. And a demonstrated willingness to take pen to paper. So I'm going to do what I do best and start prodding our public servants to start serving the public.

This was a missive I dashed off Friday night to several prominent politicians who are in a position to make some change:

I want to know what you are doing?
I want to know what you have done to amend this country's gun laws?
I want to know what you have done since the mass shootings in Aurora, CO?
In Wisconsin?
In Oregon?
And what you plan to do after today's senseless killings in Connecticut?

You are my employee.
You work for me.

If I were running a business and an employee of mine had ignored a customer or failed to come through on an assignment, multiple times, I would fire that employee.
Twenty innocent children have died today and some of that blood is on your hands.
And the hands of your colleagues in the Senate and the House.

How hard can your job be?
If it is too difficult or there are too many other priorities, perhaps you are not best suited for this kind of work.
I'm not interested in a form letter from your office.
Or any mealy-mouthed response.
I'm interested in action.
On this.
On the fiscal cliff.
On the very fate of our nation.
Get to work or we will find someone else to do the job you clearly are not doing.

How warped is the situation we find ourselves in today?

Consider this. In 1963, following the assassination of President Kennedy, Congress was debating the legality of rifles like the single-shot, bolt action Carcano M91/38. 

"We do not think any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing in this bill the instrument which killed the President of the United States." 

That came from Franklin Orth, Executive Vice President of the NRA.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A December to Remember

There is the long-held view that the best time to purchase a new car is at the end of the month.

Even better to purchase a new car at the end of the month, at the end of the year. This is the time when dealers need to clear out their inventory and are most likely to cut the best deal to make their numbers.

We are getting near that magical buyer's hour.

But if you choose to walk into Santa Monica Lexus on December 15th, 2 weeks before the optimal buying period, just so you can get a dried-up cold waffle and have your picture taken with old St. Nick, then I am going to assume you are not a fan of the Jeopardy game show.

And that you prefer Wheel of Fortune.

Moreover, the dealer at Santa Monica Lexus is going to assume that as a child, you went to school on the short bus.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Spruce Douche

I often make fun of ad agency/marketing bullshit.

More specifically, the jargon that is spouted off in meetings in order to produce the veneer of intelligence.

I am not alone in this endeavor.

My buddy Jeff Gelberg writes about on his blog, Rotation and Balance. My east coast doppleganger, George Tannenbaum waxes eloquently on the matter in his blog, Adaged. And CEO/Curmudgeon Bob Hoffman is no less perturbed on the topic in his blog, AdContrarian.

In fact, that is where I found the following video gem which I have embedded here because it needs to be seen, and heard, to be believed.

If you have suffered through the entire 4:08 seconds of that interview, I don't know if you can withstand a play by play dissection. Particularly since most of you actually work in an ad agency or on the client side and will be subjected to more of the same in a meeting scheduled for later this afternoon.

So, if I'm not going to break down the enlightening discussion and I'm not offering up any satirical commentary, why you may ask have I brought it to your attention? To be perfectly honest, I just needed an excuse to play with with my new toy: the Einstein Blackboard Generator.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keep it Simple, Stupid

Last week a bomb went off in Santa Monica.

The Honda Motor Company announced they were putting their $700 million account up for review. And in doing so, possibly ending a 26-year relationship with their ad agency Rubin Postaer and Partners.

The relationship is actually longer. Since Honda had been with Gerry Rubin and Larry Postaer while they were steering the ship at Needham Harper & Steers.

I know this (and this dangerously dates me in this business) because I was a mailroom clerk at NH&S. It's where I got my start. The Honda/NH&S/RPA relationship has been the only constant I have known  in the last three decades of advertising.

I hate to use the word inspired, but watching the way the creative people on the 7th floor went about the business of doing great work for Honda lead me to a career in copywriting.

Bob Coburn was the senior writer on Honda. He might have been a Creative Director or Group Head or any such nonsense. But Bob never struck me as a guy who cared about titles. However, his senior status at the agency never stopped him from palling around with the mailroom clerks.

He'd come into our windowless stockroom, where my partner Jim and I were often opening and reading confidential memos. It could be argued that we knew more about the agency than anybody in  the walled off departments.

Bob would get a kick from our Wall of Shame, sophomoric shit we had written or clipped from magazines and pinned on a wall to amuse ourselves. This was way before the Internet and youtube videos.

One time he spotted a box of empty mailing tubes. He asked if he could have them as well as a ball of heavy string. A week later Bob came to the mailroom to show us his newest invention. He escorted us down to the parking garage and demonstrated how, when draped over a car, his portable contraption of mailing tubes and string could prevent dings or scratches from the careless swinging of a car door.

It was brilliant. And it was simple.
Like everything Bob, and the agency, did for Honda.

I also remember him telling me how they had just sold a double-page long copy ad for the Civic. He told me the 1500 words worth of copy were due in a month. A month! These days the copywriter would be given a day, two tops.

Bob would stew on it. Write down errant phrases. Maybe draw up an outline. But he would take his time. Because it would take time. And when the deadline arrived, Bob would have the copy written and the client wouldn't change a thing, mostly because there was nothing to change.

Am I guilty of nostalgia and painting an overly rosy picture?


But that kind of craftsmanship is rarely seen these days. And now, it appears, it is being joined by its close cousin, loyalty.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Put a fork in it

If you're a regular reader of this blog, and apparently many of you are as last month's web traffic hit an astounding high of 7499 hits, you know that I cover a broad range of topics.

Everything from the insane, increasingly meaningless world of advertising to the insane, increasingly meaningless world of Judaism.

And anything that happens to fall in between: corrupt politicians, glamping, people who need to be thinned from the herd, resume title inflation, odd winter solstice celebrations, the dynamics of parenting two teenage daughters, etc.

If it's one thing this blog has going for it, it's diversity.
Which is simply a nice way of saying, I lack focus.

Not unlike the folks at Dixie Smart Stock, proud purveyors of plastic cutlery.

I'm sure there were screaming matches going in the hallways before this brainchild was launched on the public. Pitched battles between the Teaspoon Brand Management Team and the Tablespoon Brand Management Team. Both of whom have it in for the Soupspoon Brand management Team.

In the end, as it often does, it came down to the consumer.

And the upper brass at Dixie made their final decision based on the comments of one Kathy Livingston, a data entry analyst and part-time quilter from Teanack, NJ, who said in a focus group, "I wish someone would come up with a multi-purpose spoon that I could use for my tea and my soup, but yet at the same time was good for everyday use at the table."

The odd thing is, Ms. Livingston was in a focus group to judge commercials for the new Nissan minivan.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

ǝɯoɥ ʎɯ oʇ ǝɯoɔlǝʍ

Yesterday, I made mention of the African-American women, usually wielding a sun umbrella and a copy of The Tower, who show up regularly at my doorstep to pitch me their version of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Lord of Lords. You take your pick.

I also referenced the mezuzah that, for no good reason, hangs on my doorframe in the correct 38 degree angle. This article purports to explain why it is hung at an angle, but like a lot of scripture, I was more confused after the explanation than I was before I had wasted three minutes of my life.

Several months ago, we were having a problem with the circuit breaker box and so we called out an electrician. An olive-skinned man and a thick middle eastern accent showed up at my house. He was very gruff so you can imagine how the many hairs on my back stood up at attention when he turned to me and said,

"You, Jew?"

Uh, yes, I replied, already indexing everything I knew about the Balfour Declaration, The UN Partition of 1947 and Abdel Nasser, in preparation for a spirited verbal combat.

"Me too" he said, sensing my apprehension.

And with that he explained how he and his family had moved here from Israel.

He also pointed out that the mezuzah I had carefully hung on the front doorpost, was upside down. And he was right. I had never noticed it before. But reading the Hebrew letters, and it's amazing that I still can, I saw that it says ya-rush-a-lay-em, or Jerusalem, upside down.

Before the electrician left, he handed me an invoice for the work and scolded me. He said I should yank the mezuzah out and hang it right side up. I didn't tell him, but me, hammers and nails make for an awful combination. That's why we keep an ample supply of Spackle around the house.

As soon as Rabbi Edison left the house, I dashed to the back to check the orientation on the mezuzah on the door to the patio.

Hebrew, as many of you know, is read right to left. But if you're trying to read this, which says sha-lom, Shalom, you will once again have to read it from the bottom up.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

No, thank you

There must be some kind of zeitgeist bug going around.

Because every agency I walk into these days is not only interested in hawking their cars/soda pop/video game/dishwashing detergent/marital lubricant, they want to start a "movement."

They want to take all the media choices at their disposal, particularly the free ones like youtube, twitter and Facebook, and create a groundswell of evangelical exuberance. They believe that with the right manifesto in hand, the right viral film in place, and the right hipsters in their pocket, they can have the whole country buzzing about their cars/soda pop/video game/dishwashing detergent/marital lubricant.

I make no secret about my skepticism. Some have even made a malapropism of my name and called me Rich Cynical. But seriously, what god-forsaken Faris Jacobian planet are these people living on?

A movement?

The Jehovah Witnesses have a movement.

They show up at my front door every three months or so. Two older African-American women, about as sweet as people are allowed to be, will ring my bell and ask if they can share some of the wisdom they have in their hand. I politely point to the mezuzzah on my door frame (assuming they know what that's for) and tell them, "I'm all good in the faith department."

But if the situation were different and I were at a dinner party and one of the guests tried to corner me to tell how excited he was about a certain car/soda pop/video game/dishwashing detergent/marital lubricant, I would quickly dispense with the niceties and tell him or her to, "Eat me."

I don't know where all this "movement" mumbo jumbo started. Nor do I understand why the notion of it has any credibility.

Other than colleagues in the business who create this nonsense, I don't know anybody who spends time online putting decals on cars or following the tweets of Flo from Progressive Insurance. There's a thing called Life out there and it's best experienced without any so-called "branding."

I look forward to the day when ad agencies put down the Kool Aid and resume drinking whiskey at their desks. Then we can abandon these "movements" and get back to the business of selling cars/soda pop/video game/dishwashing detergent/marital lubricant.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Blogging Will Commence Immediately

Clean up your room or you will be blogged.

Yesterday, I wrote about the strange Christmas customs that take place in Europe. Including the appearance of Farmhand Rupert who shames little German children into good behavior by threatening to hit them with a bag of ash.

Germans may not be the warmest people, nor the funniest, but one can hardly argue with their success in the area of discipline. And if humiliation is a proven method of success, who am I, a hapless discipliner, to shy away from its effectiveness.

So today I'm hauling out an old picture of my youngest daughter, Abby, who can't manage to get her dirty clothes into the dirty clothes hamper. I suspect other parents of teenagers have the same issue going on at their house. But I have what they don't: a blog.

I also have at my disposal, thousands and thousands of photos. Photos, which I'm sure, my daughters do not want floating around the world wide web of WTF.

Furthermore, I have stories.
And I'm not afraid to use them.

For instance, last week Abby had a huge final in Biology. She's been struggling with this course so we brought in a tutor from her school. An upperclassman with stellar grades and an incredible ability to coach younger students to success.

This tutor, let's call him Blake, which isn't his real name but will suffice for these purposes, looks like a younger Keanu Reeves.

Unlike Keanu, he is incredibly bright. He's right out of Glee. He plays football. Sings in the choir. And has almost perfect grades. Next year, he will be attending some Ivy league college. And when I drove him home, he told me of his aspirations to join the FBI or CIA. Not only because he wants to serve his country but also because likes the sound of "Officer Blake."

As if that weren't enough, he calls me Mr. Siegel.

Long story short, but no less humiliating for my daughter, the results of the Biology test just came back. And Abby aced it.

Needless to say my fondness for Officer Blake, which was already in the stratosphere, has soared even higher. I now have a huge man-crush on him. And wish he would marry my daughter.

If the times were different and the old customs prevailed, I'd have already pick out the goats and cattle for his dowry.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

If white people in blackface doesn't get your attention, I don't know what will.

It's about the most politically incorrect imagery I am prepared to go near. Of course, I wouldn't go near it if I didn't have a good reason. And that good reason is Christmas. Strange, right? Well, not to the people in the Netherlands, where every year young, liberal, multicultural Dutch people take to the streets dressed as Zwarte Piet.

That's Black Pete for those of you who don't speak Netherlandese.

Apparently, in addition to Will Ferrell, Santa has many helpers including Pete. According to legend, his job is to entertain the children with singing and dancing while Santa goes about the business of gift-giving.

Legend also has it that like the elves, there were many, many Black Petes. And that they would travel by boat. And they would "serve" jolly old Saint Nick. I can't imagine why this fun holiday custom never caught on in America.

But if you'll pardon the pun, this quaint ritual of the Dutch pales in comparison to the Austrians -- the folks that gave us Hitler, World War 1, and state-of-the-art Anti-Semitism -- who celebrate the birth of Jesus every year by carting out Krampus, pictured below. Krampus is the tall one.

These folks know a little about discouraging misbehavior. Unlike Americans, who sing a little jingle about being naughty or nice, The Austrians know if you really want your kids to tow the line, nothing works better than an oversized, cloven-hoofed Satanic man/beast with a tongue the size of a garden snake.

Not to be outdone by their Bavarian brothers, the Germans, also known to know a little something about discipline, have Knecht Rupert or Farmhand Rupert.

He travels the countryside with a handful of switches which he will gladly thrash against the tender asses of ill-behaved Aryan kinder folk. If that doesn't straighten these miscreants out, Farmhand Rupert will hit them with his bag of ash. And no proper German child wants that.

Of course not all European Winter Solstice celebrations are as odd and dark as these. The Spanish, more specifically the Catalonians, have a charming tradition, El Caganer. I've written about The Caganer (The Shitter)  before, and I'll probably write about him again.

He made his first appearance in early recreations of the nativity scene. While the wise men and Mary and Joseph heralded the arrival of the son of God, the Caganer took this divine moment as the perfect time to drop a lincoln log. As seen here...

El Caganer shows up at the end of December as a way to remind farmers to fertilize the land. Or so the reasoning goes. Over the years, the legend of the Caganer has grown. And so has his popularity.

Now, he not only shows up at Nativity Scenes throughout the Iberian Peninsula, there are shopping malls in Spain that boast Caganers standing twenty feet in height.

Though local ordinances say, and common sense dictates, he must be kept at least 100 yards away from the food court.