Monday, September 30, 2013

The Biggest Loser

Jillian Michaels may not know it, but she is in for a fight.

You may remember her as the tough talking celebrity trainer who dished out dime store psychology and  sage advice about losing weight, "No more chocolate chip cookies."

Jillian is often seen on late night television hawking the incredible 40% incline Nordictrack Treadmill. I have no familiarity with this particular product. However, 6 months ago I purchased a stationary bike from the very same Nordictrack company, a subsidiary of Icon Health & Fitness.

I will not bore you with all the details, but the machine is now nothing more than unprocessed landfill.

It is an $800 useless lump of Chinese nuts, bolts and ball bearings. The technician, who has been to my house on three separate visits, has no idea what is wrong with it. And has literally told me, "Mr. Siegel, it's a piece of shit."

Manufacturing flaws are one thing. But I reserve my greatest ire for the Icon Health and Fitness Customer Service Representatives. The phone trees, the corporate hold music and the buck-shifting are enough to make my hair fall out. And I'm bald.

On several occasions I was told to wait and put on hold. The representatives never picked up the phone again. They believe they can wear people out with apathy.

Maybe some people. But not me.

I'm not ruling out a three day road trip to their Logan, Utah corporate headquarters just to dump the mangled machine on their front lawn. But right now I'm focusing all my attention on Jillian Michaels. And her Facebook page. And her Twitter account. And her Los Angeles celebrity appearances.

If I can force Jillian to get on the phone with her Nordictrack liaison, I believe I can extract the full refund I am due. It's a jailhouse maneuver. But apropos considering this company's criminal negligence.

Perhaps you'd like to see what I'm talking about:

Here's another sample:

And one more:

As of yet, Jillian, nor her handlers have caught on. So I'm going to re-double my efforts. After all, everyday my posts remain on her site I believe Nordictrack buyers are sent scurrying for the doors.

And if they won't give me back my money, I'll gladly take some of theirs.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Your end of week blowhardiness

Last week I received an email from a kid who used to work for me. I was his Boss. Now he's a big time  Creative Director and a boss of other people. Even though I helped guide his career and helped him win a One Show Pencil, he never hires me for any freelance gigs. But that's a different story, which I will take up at a later date, but should in no way be taken as a threat. 

Anyway, he asked me if I still had a copy of a White Paper I had written a long time ago. He wanted to share with some of his colleagues. 

So I thought I'd share it with you.

Warning; the references are dated and the piece is mercilessly long. If I had any respect for you, or even myself, I'd edit the article or start over. But that's not gonna happen.

Why We Should Never Not Use Negative Advertising.

A White Paper On Negativity.

“Does it have to be so negative?”  Ask any copywriter or art director and they will tell you these are easily the seven most dreaded words ever uttered by a client reviewing work.

Dreaded, for two reasons.

First, because it is a rhetorical question. It’s not a question at all. What the client is actually saying is, “I don’t really want an answer and any reply you do give me will be sadly insufficient and met with an uncomfortable, stony silence. Though I will thoroughly enjoy watching you hem and haw, stop and start, and generally make an emotional ass of yourself.”

The second reason it is dreaded is…oh, who cares what the second reason is, the work is dead.


Once work is labeled negative there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Or is there?

In tenth grade, a geometry teacher proved to me that the hypotenuse of a right triangle was the square root of the sum of the squares of the other sides. What’s more amazing is that the Pythagorean theorem can be proven 417 different ways.

Unfortunately, the great Euclidean thinkers never got around to dissecting the mysteries of advertising. That does not preclude us from an equally rigorous, though admittedly, more anecdotal proof of why we should embrace ‘negativity’ or what I like to refer to as ‘reverse positivism.’

Guess what? It works.

Ask 100 people to name the greatest single television commercial ever produced and 95 of those people will cite Apple’s “1984”, a nightmarish trip into an Orwellian future inhabited by IBM-drones. The tone was dark. The people were unattractive. The environment was oppressive. And probably to the product manager’s dismay, there was not a single word about any product attributes or features or benefits or anything. The copy simply said that with the introduction of the Macintosh, “1984 won’t be like 1984.”

Can an ad get any more negative?

Probably not. And yet despite the fact the spot aired once during the Super Bowl (though countless times on unpaid news programs), many will tell you that this spot not only launched Macintosh, it launched the brand. During the course of the next few weeks following the Super Bowl, Macintosh inventory ran out and Apple had to reconfigure their entire manufacturing process.

What about print you say?

Ask any student of the advertising industry to name the greatest single print ad and many, OK many older ones, will point to a Volkswagen newspaper ad from the 1960’s. There was a simple picture of the VW bug and a one-word headline that read, “Lemon.”

(In the automotive vernacular, there isn’t a single word that carries as much negative baggage as the word, “Lemon.”) The ad is about a VW bug that didn’t pass its final inspection because of a blemished chrome strip.

Today, Volkswagen is a household word in Germany and in America, because a brave client who understood the power of ‘reverse positivism’ approved ads with negative headlines like, “Lemon”, “Think small” and “It makes your house look bigger.” 

Need more examples?

I’ll name the brand and I’ll bet within seconds you can think of their commercials. Alaska Airlines. Federal Express. IBM. All employ so-called negative advertising, whether it is portraying how their competitors operate or illustrating a situation that can benefit from their product or service.

Would anybody argue that these commercials are not successful?

Why? Would somebody tell me why?

Trying to explain why negative advertising works is like asking someone to define the number three without using your fingers or a pencil or other numbers. In Luke Sullivan’s book, “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” he writes:

Negatives have power. Try writing the Ten Commandments positively…It would not fit on two stone tablets. Negatives are a linguistic construction we’re all familiar with.

And how did we become so familiar with this particular linguistic construction? From our books, our magazines, our shows, our films, our stories.

Think about it. If we expressed everything in positive terms, our nightly news wouldn’t last three minutes much less thirty.

If you took away the negative linguistic construction from a stand up comedian, how long do you think it would be before he or she was back to bussing tables or driving a cab?

And what about the movies?

Years ago, the powers that be at Paramount Studios, put Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a small movie called, “Sleepless in Seattle.” Probably for the same reason that peanut butter goes with jelly, people love to see Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together. But here’s the deal, the movie runs a little less than two hours long, and yet the two superstars are together in just one scene for three minutes. THREE MINUTES.

Did somebody in research say, “we have to change the script, they keep missing each other.” Maybe they did, but fortunately that person was sacked. Because it is the very tension, the conflict, the situations that keep them apart that make their union at the end of the film so gratifying.

Syd Field, in his book SCREENPLAY, writes:

All drama is conflict. Without conflict you have no character; without character, you have no action; without action, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.

Though we are not writing screenplays (OK some of us are, after hours) it can be argued that TV commercials need to work even harder at telling our stories: the story of our product.

And why would we not use the very same tools, drama, conflict, tension, humor, that have served great storytellers since the first markings were put on a cave?

“This White Paper isn’t all that convincing.”

Some researchers at Cleveland State University made a startling discovery.

The researchers created two fictitious job candidates –Dave and John – two identical resumes, and two almost identical letters of reference. The only difference was that John’s letter included the sentence “Sometimes, John can be difficult to get along with.”

The researchers showed the resumes to personnel directors. Which candidate did the directors most want to interview?

Sometimes-Difficult-to-Get-Along-With John.

The researchers concluded that the criticism of John made the reference’s praise of John seem much more believable, and that made John look like a stronger candidate. Showing John’s warts actually helped sell John. (Excerpted from “Selling the Invisible” by Harry Beckwith)

The point is, sometimes we propose headlines or copy that, at first blush may not seem all that appealing or flattering. But honesty has a unique disarming quality. Particularly when it comes unexpectedly from a large organization.

And as the Cleveland State University professors pointed out, honesty can go a long way in the eyes and minds of consumers we are trying to persuade.

Persuasion. Persuasion. Persuasion.

In the end, why we do, what we do, is to convince other people to do, what they sometimes don’t know they need to do, or even want to do.

This is complicated by the fact that human beings are as Harry Beckwith states, “unpredictable, frustrating, temperamental, often irrational, and occasionally half mad.”

If using ‘negative’ advertising can get us closer to a more successful persuasion, and I believe that historically it has, we would be screaming, lobotomized, half-wits(was that too negative) not to use it.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Exit Ramp

Today's lesson in photojournalistic irony takes us to the Culver Blvd. exit off the Marina Freeway.

There, we can see a homeless man plying his wares, oblivious to the sign in front of them that correctly indicates, "this is the Wrong Way to go about life."

I've been meaning to get this juxtaposition on film for the longest time but it always meant getting the timing right at the red light. You know how I despise people on the cellphones in their cars.

The picture quality isn't that good.
But then, this is an Internet blog it doesn't have to be.

I suppose the clarity would have been significantly better had I purchased the new iPhone 5S with the 8 megapixel camera, but my current iPhone is working fine so I decided not to spend the money.

It's those kind of little decisions, like the decision to get an education, to take shitty jobs I didn't care for, to stash some money away for a rainy day, to make sacrifices and put other's needs in front of mine, that make all the difference in the world.

These are the decisions this chap didn't make.

I don't mean to sound cold-hearted, but this is not the first time I have seen this professional leech.

I've also run across him on the nearby Ballona Creek Bike Path. Smoking ciggies and sipping a Tall Boy of Bud Light at the bright hour of 9 AM on a Sunday morning. Of course that's not an ideal time to be pounding the pavement looking for a job, but I suspect he was doing the exact same thing on Monday morning. Tuesday morning. Wednesday morning. And so on.

Bad decisions.

Clearly the guy has some sign-holding, corner-standing skills. So why not contribute to society and get a paying job for doing the exact same thing:

He might even get medical benefits. Which could help cover the cost of his imminent emphysema and cirrhosis. Oh I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't make that kind of broad generalization.

Maybe he won't get cirrhosis, after all, he was drinking a light beer.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Right off the Vine

I write this post knowing full well that by disparaging today's social media I come across as a grumpy, don't-let-your-dog-shit-on-my-lawn, old man.

The fact is, every post on Round Seventeen affirms that image.

Why should I start worrying about that now?

So let's talk about Vine.
Or as I like to call it, 180 frames of half-baked, unprocessed story components.

The kids are into Vine. Of course, the kids are also into huffing household cleansing products. So that doesn't mean it's good. It only means it's trendy. But that seems to be good enough for today's brash, young, insanely-smart CMO's looking to stay on the edge.

Suddenly, Fortune 500 companies are ditching more traditional media like TV, radio, and even banners (which are so 2011) for this new unproven flavor of the month.

Maybe because 6 seconds of storytelling is a lot easier to judge than 30. It's also considerably less expensive, which I think accounts for its growing popularity.

But perhaps I'm being a little hasty.

If this is the direction advertising is heading, and I have every reason to believe it is, Vining, that is the act of slapping together a Vine, could make my life so much easier.

Now, I will no longer have to spend weeks...ok, days...ok, hours, carefully crafting brand narratives that reposition a product and tell a compelling story worthy of consumer consideration and/or purchase.

If a client demands a Vine I simply have to grab my video camera, or even my iPhone, and simply hit the Record button.

The toughest part of my job will be figuring out how to upload this 6 second masterpiece to my computer.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jewish like me.

Last week I was in synagogue and had a revelation.

Did you see what I did there?

Revelations are usually associated with the New Testament. And yet I used it referencing a house of worship synonymous with the Old Testament.

The funny thing is, I find myself in church more these days, than I do in temple. That's because I have two daughters in Catholic High School. (Don't ask).

It's not unusual to find Jews at the church these days. In fact, as I like to joke with my friends, the Big Jew is all over the place. There's a crucifix in every nook and cranny and parapet that can support one.

What you won't find, and I find this surprising, are many non-Jews at a temple. To the best of my knowledge, the Last Supper (pictured above) was a Passover Seder. And yet, you don't find many gentiles celebrating Passover, as Jesus and his disciples did. The taste of matzo may have something to do with that.

Still, people who claim to revere the Old Testament aren't showing it much love.

During the Yom Kipper sermon last week, the rabbi pointed out the origin of the holiday as stated in Leviticus.

"How be it on the tenth day of the seventh month is the day of atonement; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and you shall afflict your souls." 

This was in Leviticus!

As far as I can tell Leviticus is the favorite book of bible-thumpers throughout the land. This is the book they know chapter and verse. After all, they are always quoting Leviticus anytime the issue of gay marriage comes up.

"It says so in the bible, homosexuality is an abomination. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." 

By the way, that references Leviticus and Genesis, both books of the Old Testament. Which just further adds to my confusion.

If all these narrow-minded Southern Baptists, snake-handling Pentecostals and morality-challenged born-again Christians are so fond of the Old Testament, why aren't they sitting next to me in Temple, abstaining from food, on Yom Kippur?

Moreover, why are they getting tattoos?

Why are they gorging themselves on buttery biscuits and the wood-grilled Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster? Both -- the tattoos and the shellfish-- are forbidden according to Leviticus.

Why aren't they cutting off the tips of their infant son's penis as commanded in the Old Book and offering it up to seal the covenant with God?

OK, maybe the last one wasn't the best selling point.

Anyway, Sukkot is coming up. Which one of you goyim wants to join me for some horseradish and chopped liver in my tee-pee made of palm fronds?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Muscle Madness

Gold's Gym is in Venice Beach.
That's where the work of bodybuilding is done.
Culver City however, is where the work of bodybuilding is rewarded.

Last week the MuscleHead Association of America, or whatever the official name is, held one of their two bi-annual award shows at the Veteran's Center, 3 blocks from my house.

This year's end-of-summer Muscle-Polluza was bigger than ever.

The contestants, all hairless and all wearing Speedos, spilled out the back of the staging area. It looked like the set of a gladiator movie.

There was primping.
And pumping.
And all manner of oiling.

If somebody had lit a match there would have been an inferno the likes of which we haven't seen since the Hindenburg.

"Oh the well-muscled, steroid-enhanced humanity!"

And while there were hundreds of contestants at the back of the auditorium, there were thousands of spectators waiting to shell out their hard-earned money in the front. The line snaked down Overland Ave. Past the Tubs Chili restaurant, where you can get a bowl of Grade A sirloin and fat-free kidney and pinto beans. Mmmmm, protein.

This got my wife and I, on the way to a movie, talking. Who goes to these shows?

I've been lifting weights, on and off, ever since I was 15 years old. Never with much success. And some years, more intently than others. During my twenties, when I was determined to get my weight below 175, I was lifting everyday, alternating body parts. I also had a Walter White worthy collection of protein supplements including, ornithine, creatine, arginine, and lysine.

The point is, I can see how one could get obsessed with building muscle.
What I can't see is getting obsessed with other people building their muscles.

And I was left to wonder if people exiting a muscle show have similar discussions to people exiting a movie theater?

"Those were some excellent glutes we saw tonight."

"How about those deltoids? I haven't seen deltoid work like that since Ferrigno in 2005."

"I'll be thinking about those lats all night long."

"Do you want to get some pie?"

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Alex Bogusky Story

I met Alex Bogusky in 1997.

Alex, for those of you not in the business, lit up the world and put Crispin Porter & Bogusky on the map with breakthrough campaigns for Burger King, Mini and Coca Cola.

We had both been selected to serve on the judging committee for the OBIES, the awards given by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

He was quite younger than me. And moved about the room with ease and not an insignificant amount of charm. It's easy to see why he had such success pushing clients to take risks. He also knew good work when he saw it. Or in the case of the 1997 OBIES, when he didn't see it.

At the conclusion of the first day of judging, Alex convened all the judges and announced, "I don't see anything here worth awarding. I say we give out NOTHING."

To an extent, he was right.
There was a lot of crap on the table.
But to a greater extent, Alex was wrong.

We weren't there judging films or books or anything that merited more than 30 seconds worth of anybody's attention. We were judging advertising.

Outdoor boards, no less. Otherwise known as visual highway pollution. Our job was to find the least offensive work amongst all the offensive work.

I countered Alex's proclamation, "Dude (it seemed appropriate to call him Dude), these folks flew me, my wife and my 6 month old daughter all the way to NY. They put us up at the SoHo Grand Hotel, and they paid for last night's dinner at Raoul's, by the way the steak and pom frite were excellent. I'm not going to turn around and tell them all the work sucked. We couldn't find anything worth awarding. Sorry. Here's my hotel tab."

He yielded.

And on the next day, though he mumbled and grumbled about the shit show he was presiding over, Alex finished the tabulations and announced we were able to come to a consensus. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we had completed our task and that I wouldn't have to go ten rounds with the finance woman from the Association. Particularly as I had plowed through the minibar's $15 cans of cashews and the fancy imported Indian ales.

I can't tell you who went home with the 1997 Royal Grand Supreme Obie. But I can tell you the recipients of that prestigious award owe me.

Big time.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Splash Talk

This is Antawn Jamison, a 6'9" Power Forward who, at one time, was one of the NBA's top prospects.

He no longer plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. He now dons a Clippers uniform. But who knows how long that will last as he now played for 5 separate teams in the 9 years since entering the NBA.

Nevertheless, there's no arguing with the fact he is an elite professional athlete.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Antawn. Actually, we never talked with each other. We only swam next to each other.

I, in the fast lane, and he, in the not-so-fast lane.

I swim at my brother's condo complex in Playa Vista. The newly built Clippers training camp is also in Playa Vista. In fact, as you can tell from the map, they are only a mile and a half apart. I'm sure Antawn, and the two scrubs he came with, could have walked from the gym, but I'm pretty sure they came in the pimped-out Escalade parked in front of the pool.

It's not all that unusual to find some Clippers at the pool.

Two years ago, I swam next to, and talked with Blake Griffin, who was rehabbing from a knee injury. His coach had him swimming when he couldn't do any other cardio exercise.

Blake took to the water like a duck and has a long, graceful stroke. He covers the 25 meters of the pool in 6 easy, strides.

I tried counting the number of strokes Antawn and his buddies were swimming but lost count. I'm not even sure you'd call it swimming. It was more like flailing. And slapping the water. And gasping for oxygen as if they were summiting K2.

Look, I don't have a stellar athletic track record.

In high school, I would have liked to play football. I had the weight for the position, but I didn't have the height. In college, the only running I did was for beer. It wasn't until I moved to California that I discovered running 10K races, marathons and triathlons. Mostly as an avenue to getting laid.

So you'll have to pardon me for gloating. Because it wasn't even official. There were no starting guns. Or finish lines. I'm not even sure Antawn knew he was racing me. But I was definitely racing him. And in a simple 50 meter swim there and back, I kicked his $1.9 million professional basketball-playing ass.

And in a few weeks, for $29.95 plus shipping and handling, I'll have the hardware to prove it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Let The Seller Beware

Last week I was one-upped.

Hasan Syed, a dissatisfied British Airways customer (are there any other kind?), paid $1000 for a promoted tweet and bashed BA for their horrible customer service. It was the first time a consumer purchased a promoted tweet for the sole purpose of complaining about a brand.

But it won't be the last.

The story of Mr. Syed's anger, and his response, took on a life of its own. It's estimated with all the news coverage, his promoted tweet was worth $7 million dollars in bad word of mouth advertising for BA.

Am I jealous?
Of course, I'm jealous.

You might recall earlier in the year my family and I took a trip to Europe, to see family in Scotland and to finally shut my daughters up about going to Paris. The vacation was wonderful. The trip over on British Airways was not.

The 747 we were on was built in 1971 and was originally designed to accommodate 283 souls. However, some dim-witted douchebags in the British Airways accounting department decided the massive engine thrust was being underutilized. So they reconfigured the fuselage and installed 67 additional seats.

The crated cockapoodle in the cargo hold had more legroom than I did.

When I got home, I did what every other disgruntled airline passenger does, I wrote letters. All to no avail. And then I decided to do what Mr. Syed did, take my case to the people.

So I borrowed some imagery from the Holocaust, who by comparison had it much easier, and composed  an outdoor board which I was going to place at a strategic location on Century Blvd.

Here's what it would have looked like to customers approaching LAX:

I was ready to pull the trigger.
And anybody that knows me knows I would have done so.

But the cost was prohibitive. And I would have had a hard explaining to my daughter that she couldn't go to college because Daddy blew the money on a novelty billboard to make a hyperbolic point about a crappy flight to Heathrow Airport.

Thankfully, these promoted tweets are within my budget.

Which means this post will serve as a word of warning to the Nordictrack people if they don't get my stationary bike fixed.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's Hump Day

Today is September 11.

And the temptation is great to go off on the murderous bastards who killed 3000 Americans and accomplished absolutely nothing in doing so. Like so many endeavors in the pursuit of Jihad.

But today, I find myself tired of my own voice.

I don't want to kvetch about semi-evolved human beings and their bloodlust and their misogynistic fairy tales written by desert dwelling goat herders 1000, 2000 or even 5000 years ago.

I don't want to rag on advertising, the business that puts food on my table, pays a premium price for my ideas and affords me the opportunity to swim at lunchtime.

And I don't want to speak publicly about my daughter's (both of them) annoying habit of taking selfies everywhere they go. I just don't get it.

Instead I want to leave you with a picture of the Pink Cheeks Salon on Ventura Blvd, in the heart of Sherman Oaks California.

If you do go to the Pinks Cheeks Salon, you'll find -- as the sign above indicates -- ample parking in the rear.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"In this campaign..."

AMC airs two shows about advertising. For comedic purposes I would normally say one of them is good. The other, not so much. And then reveal that the good show I'm talking about is The Pitch. Implying, by the use of irony, that the not-so-good show is Madmen.

It's a twist.
A misdirect.
A bait and switch.

But, since a friend of mine is actually a paid consultant/producer/writer on Madmen, I can't really do that. Moreover, I haven't watched a single episode of Madmen since it started 6 years ago. So it wouldn't be fair to make it the butt of my joke.

Which brings us back to The Pitch.

For those who don't know, the premise is very simple. Two competing full service agencies (sometimes as small as three people) do battle for an advertising account or assignment.

In the hipster, pop culture bleeding edge circles that I travel in, it's quite fashionable to poo-poo The Pitch. But I generally run in the other direction than those sporting tattoo sleeves, or nose jewelry, or stingy brim fedora hats.

They claim the show is cringeworthy.
For me, it's bingeworthy.

I can't get enough of the amateur antics, the backbiting and the PDD, the Public Displays of Douchebaggery. If a man with a TV camera is pointing it at you why would you look directly into it and with a complete straight face say something like:

"I don't call myself a genius. But a lot of other people do. My mother and father always told me I was a genius. I guess maybe I am."

That's an actual quote.
And genius didn't win the account.

That is not to say the other agency's work was brilliant. It wasn't. To date, I've never seen anything on the show that even comes close to marginal. As a result, the client is often left to choosing between two piles of dogshit. One left by a Great Dane, the other by a Chihuauhua.

Not entirely unlike our current options with Syria.

The Pitch has enough schadenfreude for two shows.

But in a couple of weeks it will all get personal. Years ago, while entertaining the notion of starting up a business, I almost got into bed with one of the agencies that will be competing. I didn't pull the trigger but I remain friends with the partners and occasionally do some work for them.

I hope they come off well. But shudder to think I would have had to make an appearance on the Pitch. So I thank my lucky stars that it won't be me beaming into millions, okay, thousands, of living rooms.

After all, I have a face for radio.
And a voice for newspaper.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Happy 5774

Unless you live in Beverlywood, where they will stone you for washing your car on a Saturday morning. Or your kids go to school in Beverly Hills, where they were officially closed for two days. You might have missed Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Unlike other New Year's celebrations there were no fireworks.

No humungous crowds gathered in city squares.

There was no giant corporate-sponsored electric ball dropped from the nearest skyscraper.

There were no streamers, party hats or awkward interviews with Ryan Seacrest and Dick Clark.

There were no dragons, countdowns or semi-platonic kisses at midnight.

The rabbi read from the Torah.

Some pimply-faced kid, who won't get laid until he's a junior in college, blew a horn.

And some apple slices were dipped in honey.

The Riot Police slept fitfully that night.

The truth is, and I've said this before, we Jews suck at holidays. Even our most joyous holiday, Purim, doesn't elicit a single smile from the costumed 6-year olds pictured above. I've seen happier faces at a funeral for a poor aunt.

So what is it that prevents us from cutting loose and tossing all our inhibitions in the ocean to enjoy a single moment of debauchery and unfettered joy? I attribute it to Jewish neuroticism. And the realization that, "yes, things are great today, but they can, and probably will, get worse tomorrow."

Speaking of which, Happy Yom Kippur.

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to paying $500 for the privilege of slapping on my wool suit, sitting in a hot temple with 900 grumbling altacacas and abstaining from food for 26 hours.

Good times.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's not personal, it's business

I know from my many years working at ad agencies that nothing is given away for free.


If a project runs longer than projected or a client requests services that were not discussed in the original agreement, you can be sure the groundhogs in the Finance Department are going to pop up out of their cubicles and yell something about "SCOPE."

I have no problem with that.
After all, as agencies are fond of telling clients:

"It's only fair that we get paid for the services we provide."

"The less we're concerned about clock management the more we can focus on delivering creative solutions."

"If we're doing more than what we're being paid for, we wouldn't be smart business people. You wouldn't want to be in a partnership with bad business people."

These are all valid statements. But they are also why I am given to fits of fury (internalized of course) when it comes to negotiating my pay.

After all, if agencies aren't giving it away for free, why should freelancers?

For starters, I won't do a Project Fee. This is Fool's Gold. And is all predicated upon some fictional time line and assumed client approvals that never come to fruition.

Revisions become more revisions. More revisions become "Maybe we should rethink the brief?" But "let's rethink the brief" rarely turns into "Let's renegotiate the fee."

I'm also leery of the weekly rate. Because somehow agencies have it in their head that the week starts on Monday and ends on Monday. I've been burned on several occasions by this kind of agreement. But it won't happen again.

Even the day rate is losing its appeal.

Last week a friend of mine told me he showed up at the office at 8 AM and didn't go home that night until 1 AM. That's not one day. That's not even two days. That's 2 &1/2 days in the Siegel Book of Fair Labor Practices and Missed Episodes of the Daily Show. And if he doesn't bill them as such, he's doing us all a disfavor.

The best way to pay me is also the best way to pay a lawyer. On an hourly basis.

Some agencies, I call them the Good Ones, do pay on an hourly basis. Some agencies even pay overtime. I call them the Better Ones.

The hourly rate makes the most sense. Because then, if you want me to stay late or work on weekends, you'll pay me to stay late and work on weekends.

In essence, this forces agencies to plan better and manage more efficiently. It's almost like I'm doing them a favor.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A word about Agencyspy

Some of my buddies claim I blog about advertising too much. And it's true, I do. But I know my audience. And I know that in addition to making regular stops here, they also stop in for "all the dirt that's fit to print" over at

In fact, if you were to walk through the hallways at any agency, even one you're sitting in right now, you'd find a substantial percentage of the screens were on agencyspy at this very second.

I don't have any hard data to prove this, and I don't know why that should stop me, but here's how your agency computer monitoring works out:

43%  Are on Facebook
22%  Are shopping for shoes on Zappos
17%  Are on Agencyspy
8%    Are on Pinterest
5%    Are combing through emails, looking for the brief
3%    Are watching porn

Pretty disgusting isn't it? That a significant number of your employees think it's alright to accept a paycheck while perusing through page after page of pumps and high heels.

Back to agencyspy.
And a trend I find hard to ignore.

Whenever they post new work, and I find this pertains mostly to TV, the trolls come out in droves. There's very little vitriol for digital work. Perhaps because we can all agree, "it's all shit."

But the TV work is a different matter.

Here, and I can't stand this vernacular, the "haters gonna hate." I don't even know what that means but it gets a lot of airplay and I want to stay in synch with my young readers. If they found out I was pushing 38 years old, my web traffic would fall off a ledge.

But not all the TV work sucks.

In fact I find myself liking a great deal of it. It's smart. It makes me smile. And in some cases -- like the recent work by Gerry Graf's crew about renaming hurricanes after failed politicians -- I find myself laughing, not out loud, but internally.

None of that stops the anonymous keyboard warriors, like Douchetastic87 or Major Playa Hater21,  from breaking out the snark stick and bashing away with reckless abandon. All written from the point of view of someone who could better.

And I suspect we all know that's simply not true.

Truly capable writers do not set up fake email accounts and devise clever alias names just so they can log on to and make rude comments about other people's work.

Truly capable writers have more important things to do.

Like this.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Tale of Amen Corner

The Masters Tournament has been held in Augusta, Georgia since 1934. It is regarded as one of the crown jewels of golf. And every spring thousands of people spend millions of dollars to flock to the area. They go to smell the Cherokee Roses and see who will come home with the famed Green Jacket.

In 1951, my father, who never picked up a golf club in his life and had zero interest in the game, also made the pilgrimage to Augusta.

He went for free.

And he was wearing a set of handcuffs.

The trip, and the wrist jewelry, were compliments of the U.S. Army. And he didn't actually go to the Augusta National Golf Course, he was carted off to Camp Gordon, 11.2 miles west of the country club.

You see, right after the war my father had been drafted. He didn't want to go into the Army. Nor did any of his trouble-making friends from the South Bronx. So they did what most 19-year old boys would do, they lashed out.

And one of the best ways to thumb your nose at authority in those days was to indulge in some reefer madness. The Army caught wind of it. Court Martialed him. And sent him to the brig for a year. A harsh sentence in anyone's book.

Neither of my parents had ever uttered a peep about this. I only heard about it recently through my uncle. Naturally I was shocked.

"You're not going to write about this, are you?" my uncle asked.

"How could I not?" I replied.

This revelation explains my father in a way none of my blurry childhood memories could. And far from being shameful, I see his incarceration as a remarkable badge of honor.

As any screenwriter will tell you the key to a good movie is character arc. That is, the audience needs to witness change. The greater and more believable the change, the more the audience will cheer on the main character. To do this, you'll notice the protoganist in any good movie starts out in the down position. He could lose his job. His wife could leave him. His dog could die.

Or he could be sent off to prison for smoking a joint.

The point is, to emerge victorious he must summon his strength and do what is necessary to overcome his personal obstacles.

My father did that.
And more.

Not only did he grow up in working class poverty. He found himself at the ripe age of 20 with nothing more than a high school diploma and an irrevocable stain, compliments of Uncle Sam,  on his permanent record.

This might have sent lesser men down the path of lesser resistance. But Al Siegel was not lesser men.

He went to work. When that wasn't enough, he took on a second job. He waited tables at restaurants. He married my mother. He had three kids. And then, when he could have resigned himself to just getting by, he enrolled in college. He didn't graduate from CCNY until I was 8 years old. I vaguely remember a big celebration, but only now appreciate what an achievement this was.

Three years after graduating college, he passed the CPA exam. And because NY state had a law on the books banning convicted criminals from practicing certified accountancy, he had to petition Governor Rockefeller for an official pardon. The Governor obliged. And my father successfully lifted himself by his jailhouse bootstraps and made something of himself.

It's the feel good story of 2013.
Well, it's my feel good story.

Maybe I'll write a screenplay about my father one day.

The beginning is pretty incredible. The ending, achieving a modicum of affluence, owning a house in Suffern, NY, raising three kids and working 22 years as the comptroller for an electrical wiring company, may not seem all that cinematic, but it feels pretty damn heroic to me.