Friday, October 31, 2014

"We're not in Kansas anymore." "Thank God." -- Homestore Part Five

August 15, 1999 -- Topeka, Kansas

The Atlas E 65 Series was the first ICBM developed and deployed in the United States. Built at the height of the Cold War, the Atlas was 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki. During the 1960's the Atlas missiles, launched by satellite relay, were hidden underground in silos scattered throughout the heartland of America.

After the Cold war, the missiles were decommissioned and the sites were auctioned off to adventurous homeowners.

Including Ed and Diane Peden, who turned an abandoned 7 story underground silo into their home.

The Missile Home was our fourth installment for Home Movie; the previous three have been discussed earlier this week.

As a fan of history and someone who has taken great interest in the conflicts of the 19th century, I was extremely excited about visiting this now-vacated missile silo. It was odd to think that at one time several high ranking Soviet officers had targeted this are for destruction in a possible pre-emptive first strike.

Had the Russians visited the place they would scrapped those plans and said to hell with them, anyone who wants to live in Topeka has already been damned by the devil.

And by that, I mean it was HOT.

I grew up in Upstate New York and knew of all kinds of heat and humidity. But Topeka, Kansas, in the middle of summer, on a windy day, was something unto its own. This was God's own convection pizza oven.

Frankly, I expected the surrounding fields of wheat to burst into spontaneous combustion.

The only relief was to get out of the searing wind. And the only way to do that was to get in the elevator with our host, Mr. Peden and go underground.

Here, he and his wife, spent thousands of dollars and thousands of man hours tearing out the ancient analog computers and military paraphernalia and replacing them with wicker furniture and LaZ-Boy recliners.

Surreal doesn't even begin to describe the experience. Feeling like you were buried alive is a much more accurate description. It was claustrophobic. It was dark. And it was dank.

I've come to understand the word dank has been appropriated by stoners and hipsters and has come to mean something of unusually high quality. But I am using the word dank in its original form, meaning clammy, unaired and musty.

As if that were not unpleasant enough, our hosts, who were very sweet Midwesterners, insisted we stay for one of the rituals they conducted every week in the basement (an odd term to use considering the whole house was a basement) -- The Eastern Kansas Peace Drum Circle.

I'm going to assume you know enough about me to ascertain my disposition towards drum circles.

And so it went.

Above ground, 130 degrees of whipping wind and scorching sun. Below ground, a modern day catacomb accompanied by the endless pounding of rhythm-less white people on bongo drums. Two sides of the coin otherwise known as Hell.

Side note: Topeka, Kansas is the home of the late Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church Fame. Is it any wonder why that man was so damn angry?

Coming up tomorrow, the dream of every copywriter and art director who have ever worked in advertising -- OPEN ON A TROPICAL ISLE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Whirlwindy City -- Homestore Part Four


                                (homestore toilet paper…er, stock certificate)

Before we continue the fourth installment of the Home Movie travelogue, it should be noted that back at headquarters the slimy executives were positively exuberant.

You see they had put out on IPO on homestore stock which opened at $21 dollars a share. In the following weeks, the price doubled, tripled and quadrupled. In fact, at its height the price went up to $140 a share, about seven times the original price.

We were to find out, later, that this was not because Stewart Wolff and his crack team of entrepreneurs were acute businessmen. Or even just damn lucky.

Turns out they were cooking the books.
"Homerunning", I believe is the appropriate white collar term.

Every deal, every barter, every transaction that involved homestore was recorded as revenue or income. They did this to fool the venture capital people to keep funding their house of cards. Consequently, this pumped up the stock price.

When rumors that the SEC was poking around, there was a huge company gathering at the Thousand Oaks Auditorium, where the faithful were assuaged by the WolffMan himself.

"Everything is good. We're profitable. And we're confident. Hold onto your company stock. Hell, buy more. We're going to be bigger than MicroSoft."

That's hard to do from the inside of 8 foot by 10 foot jail cell.

May 21, 1999 -- Palos Hills, IL

We arrive in Chicago about 7PM and check in to our hotel off Michigan Ave. It's my first time in the Windy City but I almost didn't see it. We were at a Westin and I had been upgraded to a junior suite on the 42nd floor.

Keep in mind this was a long time ago, when ad agencies recognized business travel for the sacrifice it was. And in return for giving up free time with friends and family, treated employees more like human beings and less like indentured servants.

It was there I encountered the Heavenly Bed™, Westin's branded bed, that quite frankly cannot be topped. I put my bags down and while admiring the floor-to-ceiling view of the lake, fell asleep and almost didn't make the trip with the production crew for a night on the town. And way too much deep dish pizza.

The following day, we load up the vans and head to Palos Hills, where we meet Ben Skora. Like Wild Bill, he marches to the beat of his own drummer. This, as Director Chris Smith often told us, is more important, much more important, than the house themselves.

Ben's house, which was all electric and featured Star Trek like doors, robotic mannequins and a potted plant that could turn into a potty, were all run of the mill gadgetry. To be honest, the craftsmanship was on the shabby side and his taste in furniture was less 1999 and more 1979.

Ben introduced us to Arok, a hand built life size robot. And we met his "friend" Darlene, an aspiring actress who was convinced that with the right headshot and one good break she could be the next Julia Roberts.

Sadly, her appearance in Home Movie was not that epiphany.

The highlight of the day happened at lunch time. While enjoying authentic Mexican-ish style fajitas in the backyard, Ben told us of the time when he and Arok were invited to judge the Miss Nude World Contest in Las Vegas.

He was itching to show us the pictures and went inside the house and came back with no less than 8 photo albums detailing the debauchery that took place at the old Riviera Hotel on the Vegas Strip.

I spent the remainder of the day poring over those photos. Through the magic of Polaroid I saw men in bell bottoms. I saw women who had never heard of the French or Brazilian wax. And I witnessed firsthand many of the astonishing things Miss Kentucky could do with balloon animals.

Coming up tomorrow -- the birthplace of the Westboro Baptist Church and an all expense paid trip to the swanky Mauna Kea.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On the Bayou -- Homestore Part Three

(Today's posting is dedicated to Rick Shambaugh, who left us way too suddenly last night. Rick was an editor at Chiat/Day and assisted on the commercials. As well as countless others. He made us all look better than we were. His tireless work ethic was only surpassed by his easy, gentle nature. He will be missed.)

April 16, 1999 -- Lac De Allemands, LA

Last night, we arrived in New Orleans to film the second installment of Home Movie. Today we are heading south and west to the deep Bayou to meet Wild Bill Tregle, who lives on a custom built house boat in the middle of German Lake (Lac de Allemands).

I have only known two Wild Bills in my life. And have found that if you insist people address you by the name Wild Bill you'd had better live up to the moniker.

Louisiana Wild Bill certainly did.

I should also mention that as I write this I am listening to the haunting title sequence from True Detective. I can think of no other music that better sets the stage for our adventure in this massive swamp the Mississippi built.

WB is larger than life.

Of course we knew that from the research tape we had seen months earlier. During that interview atop his ramshackle home/boat, Bill was answering questions and eating fried chicken -- he ate a lot of fried chicken. To punctuate one of his pithy, homegrown retorts he casually flung the half eaten drumstick over his shoulder and into the murky waters where it was snapped up by a waiting alligator.

That's when we knew we had to have WB for our film.

Bill doesn't live exclusively on the houseboat. He spends considerable time at his sister's house along the shore. It's here that we set up base camp for the three days of filming. And it's here Bill shows us how he earns his keep -- hunting alligators and selling the heads to alligator-head needing tourists.

In the killing shed there were thousands of these alligator melons and they gave off a miserable odor that was one part formaldehyde and one part Clorox bleach.

Bill explained how he and his buddy would get out on the lake in the early morning hours, snag an unwitting gator in a rope snare, and drag the poor bastard close to the stainless steel low-slung boat. Then Bill would take out his trusty 44 and blast a hole in the gator's skull, right between the eyes.

Later, they would patch up the hole with spackling compound and paint it dark green. And replace the eyes with black marbles.

Barry Bumpkin and Tina Tourist from Akron, Ohio would never be the wiser.

Next to the shed, was Zam's Restaurant and Curios Emporium.

I spent hours going through this fascinating collection of oddities curated from the deepest corners of Creole Country. I almost purchased some incredibly insensitive memorabilia that I found interesting simply because it was so politically incorrect.

But following a phone call with my wife, decided against it, when she rightly said, "You're not bringing n*gg*r toothpaste or any of that Southern racist shit into the house." In retrospect it's just as offensive as people who collect swastikas and various Nazi memorabilia.

When lunchtime came, we were directed towards the restaurant, where we would be eating with the snaggle-toothed locals. It's probably wrong, and maybe lazy, of me to use a cliche like snaggle-toothed, but no other words seem to pack as much pungent truth.

We entered through the rear of the restaurant and mistakenly got a first hand look at the kitchen where our food was being prepared. There wasn't a hair net in sight. And the chefs, er…cooks, were all smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.

I happened to glance at the fryer and the hot black oil looked as if it had been drained directly from the underbelly of a 67 Chevy Impala -- the one on cinder blocks covered in Spanish moss under the cypress tree.

But damn, if that wasn't the best tasting fried chicken I ever had in my life. I was so pleasantly surprised, I ventured beyond my comfort zone and sampled the alligator. Which, not surprisingly, tasted like chicken. Really good Louisiana fried chicken.

Sadly, Bill passed away last year. I wish I had the chance to meet him again. He was a one-in-a-million character.

While digging around the internet, I found Wild Bill appeared in some print advertising for Southern Comfort. It was classic gallows humor with the kind of acerbic headline I wish I had written.

Coming up tomorrow, a trip to Chicago and an interview with one of the judges from the Miss World Nude Contest.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Welcome to the Cathouse -- Homestore Part Two

In 1998, Chiat/Day was running on all cylinders.

The prior year, we were named Agency of the Year. We were winning awards on all our accounts: Taco Bell, Apple, Playstation, Levis and ABC. The economy was booming and dotcoms were handing us their business without reviews.

Including -- a real estate listing website.

Rumor had it they had a $100 million budget. And we were told the CEO, a karate-chopping engineer-turned-entrepreneur, was going to be the next Bill Gates.

Who told us? He did.

To say CEO Stuart Wolff (Federal Penitentiary Prisoner #41978, more on that later) was full of himself would be an understatement akin to calling the Titanic a boat, or the Hindenburg a big balloon.

Of course when somebody holds out a carrot as big as Stuart's you learn to shut up, grin and start planning the boondoggles.

After a few rounds of strategically-correct, but uninspired work, we presented a campaign that appealed to Stuart's oversized ego. The idea was to film unique people living in unique houses. The commercials would all be shot documentary style and were tied to the line:

There's a dream home for everyone. What's yours?

To his credit, Stuart saw the effort as having great potential. So much so that he reasoned, "before we shoot the spots, let's figure out how to make commercials people will pay to see."

Great, I thought, I have two toddlers at home trying to figure out how to use a toilet and this bozo wants us to figure out how to change the entire interruptive advertising paradigm.

And so the storyboards sat on the shelf.

Unproduced for many, many months.

And in those many, many months, we (John Shirley and I) came to blows with the new upper management at Chiat who had abandoned the old credo of fighting for good work and were more interested in fighting for good revenue.

The acrimony was palpable.
And it became our undoing.
But through sheer determination and a pit bull unwillingness to give in to those without a creative bone in their body, we prevailed.

In a bit of creative ju-jitsu, we wouldn't shoot 6 TV commercials. We would shoot a feature film, a documentary from which 6 commercials would be extracted. Stuart loved the plan. No one had ever done something like that before and more importantly, he saw the venture as a way to get his picture on the cover of Forbes Magazine.

Let's go shoot a movie.

February 28, 1999 -- San Diego, CA

We arrive at the home of Bob Walker and Frances Mooney.

The couple have no children, but are precociously proud "parents" of 41 cats. Although it felt like there were 141.

The house has been built and customized for the cats. Everywhere you looked there were scratching posts, catwalks and litter boxes. There also these red balls filled with catnip strewn about the home which was less of a home and more of a pastel-painted funhouse.

I don't know what catnip is or does -- and frankly I don't want to -- I only know that the air inside the house is so thick with dander, cat hair and tchotschkes that I can't breath and must retire to the driveway for oxygen.

An infelicitous start to our film.

Frances shows us how she "talks" to the cats. And Bob shows us some of the new cat furniture he is building in the garage. His enthusiasm is both fascinating and unnatural. It is at this point, that I decide there's only one thing I like less than cats, Cat People.

Coming up: our inauspicious shoot in San Diego is followed by a raucous trip to New Orleans.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Let's make a movie -- Homestore Part One

I've been thinking about obituaries lately.

Perhaps because we just said our goodbyes to my mother-in-law. And perhaps because I'm scheduled to go to a memorial for a colleague who tragically passed in a car accident a few months ago.

I knew her casually and had the pleasure of working with her on the ABC campaign, years ago. She worked on the voluminous ads done to promote individual shows and evenings. I'm hoping the one I've yanked from the files was hers.

And if it wasn't, it is now.

What I will say about Sheri, and I'm sure this will be mentioned at the service, is she had a great laugh. An infectious laugh. A glowing infectious laugh that continues to echo. If she was in the room or anywhere in the vicinity, you can be sure someone was going to try and say something that would make her laugh. It was that sweet.

Not a bad memory to leave behind.

And so, as any self-respecting narcissist would, I started thinking about my obituary. Even though I'm only 44 and not planning to go anywhere soon.

A few weeks ago, a young copywriter, who is quiet by nature, came up to me at the coffee machine.

"Hey, you're the guy that did that ABC campaign, right? We loved that stuff. Our professors at ad school used to bring that up all the time."

Which roughly translates to:

"…And now you're here writing crappy dealer retail ads, man what happened to you? You big fucking loser!"

Well, I don't want my professional legacy to be a campaign that was, on one hand incredibly good to me, but on the other was too simple, too easy, and frankly, too one dimensional.

As my friend George often points out, for work to have worth it must have a degree of difficulty. It requires sweat, persistence and a vision that remains untainted by the inhabitants of the Nincompoop Forest.

For me, and my partner John Shirley, that was our work for and the production of the documentary, Home Movie.

A Sisyphean effort if there ever was one.

For years the Director of the film, Chris Smith, would tell me that I needed to write a book about the Homestore story. It was so indicative of the dotcom bust and had all the elements of a great novel, including the tale of the CEO who is now serving time in a Federal Penitentiary for embezzling millions of dollars.

I'm not sure how many of you know the sweet pleasure of seeing a former douchebag client wearing an orange jumpsuit and doing the perp walk, but I do.

The truth is, I would love to write that book. The other truth is I don't have the notes, the facts or the memories of everything that transpired to do it any justice.

But I do have enough for a 5-Day Series, a travelogue if you will, of the journey that took us from the crooked corporate headquarters in Thousand Oaks to a rustic treehouse nestled in the rainforest of the Waipeo Valley to the tony town of Park City, Utah where we celebrated the wrap of the film as only abused ad agency people with an unlimited budget could…

"Waiter, can you please bring us a ninth bottle of that $200 Opus One. Oh hell, make it an even 10."

Coming up tomorrow, our first stop on a cross country tour -- a cathouse in San Diego.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I don't like Fridays.

I hadn't planned on writing a post today; normally I take Fridays off.

However, I received a special request from my friend Mike Folino, who for some unknown reason believed some R17 digital ink written for my loyal 8 readers would garner attention for a project he just finished.

I'm always happy to help a friend, despite my well-honed online persona as a grumpy miscreant. And so I encourage you to visit this website and help spread the word about these touching films. They're about 15 minutes each and they might change the way you look at the world.

Now before you start dashing off an email asking me to promote your sister-in-law's Pickles and Blintzes Deli or your new mobile app that reloads parking meters via your smartphone, you should know this about Mike Folino.

He is a former colleague of mine from Team One Advertising.

Like almost every other writer or art director that worked there, he has gone on to great success as a Chief Creative Officer or Executive Creative Director.

That distinguished list includes: Angelo, Schwartz, Levit, Monteiro, Crandall, Silver, Mazza, Hage, Kadin, Spiegel, Toyama, hell, even the guy who used to push the damn mail cart around became a CCO.

I am such a fucking loser.

The point is, Mike can do something for me.

He is extremely well connected. He produces great work, at a high level (these films and his spots for Visa come to mind) and there is the remote possibility he could throw me a bone in the future, you know should my stellar career writing banner ads for local mattress stores come to a grinding halt.

So please don't bombard me with requests.

I'm looking at you,

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Confessions of a Mercenary

I spent the majority of my career in advertising as a staff guy. Or as I often say, a chump.

When I was on the company payroll, I never cared for those carefree freelancers who would arrive at the last minute after all the legwork had been done and 16 rounds of work had been killed.

And it didn't help that they'd stroll into the office with their come-in-at-11 attitude. Or their I'm-shoving-out-at-4-and-there's-nothing-you-can-do-about-it end of day demeanor.

Who were these "happy" creatives and what business did they have with our business? I often thought.

You can chalk it up to being young, insecure and overly ambitious, but we staffers also regarded the hiring of freelancers as a not-so-subtle signal from upper management. They had lost confidence in our ability to come up with a creative solve and needed the high-priced professional gunslingers to come in and clean up our mess.

Or so, we thought.

But now I'm 44 and have been playing for the other team for more than 10 years. I have a whole other perspective on the matter. In fact, and I say this with no self-serving agenda whatsoever, I believe freelancers will be the ones who save our industry.

Here's why.

Freelancers are cheaper than staffers. They can telecommute. They require no real estate footprint. They demand no benefits. Think how much money is wasted on the false camaraderie of employee picnics, birthday cakes, and Secret Santas. This country would be back in the black if businesses, large and small, didn't have to reach into their pocket and shell out billions of dollars for supermarket cupcakes and bi-annual employee dental cleanings.

They're also cheaper because you only pay them when there is work to be done. These days that work can be sporadic. Clients are moving away from the AOR model and doing more project work. And that project work is often doled out as a "jump ball." Pitting one holding company agency against a sister agency.

It goes without saying if you find yourself in a jump ball situation, you want to deploy the "tallest, most athletic" creative team money can buy. Tall and athletic being a metaphor for bald and stocky, of course.

Also, freelancers are easier. There's no drama. No trauma. And no "Why do I always get the shitty assignments? Why don't you give this pharma project to Bill and Kathy, they're the ones that dropped the meat in the dirt on that new business pitch?"

Freelancers are happy to work on any project. From a mammoth Super Bowl spot to the continued evolution of the Crestor guy.

"The client wants Crestor Guy to be more three dimensional. With a more urgent call to action. Maybe even have him do some live tweeting." 

"Pffft, no problem," said the eager freelancer.

And finally there's this. Freelancers are more efficient.

You hand the brief to a freelance team, hold a gun up to their head and say you need to see something in a day and 24 hours later that freelance team will have a packet or a pdf of fresh new ideas. That's just the way it works.

Wham, bam, thank you Omnicom.

Then, on Friday afternoon, when the account team comes back from the presentation and announces all the work has died, the freelancers will be right there to pick up the slack. Ready to fire up the meter, work the weekend and charge double overtime. There's no pouting. Or grousing. Or venting via the comment section on AgencySpy.

Because to a freelancer there's only one phrase sweeter than "the strategy has changed."

"The check has cleared."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dropping the hammer.

This is the living room of my house.

Some of you have been here, most of you have not.

The couch needs replacing, thanks to the abundant sunlight and the new sleeping habits of my dog. In the past we never let Nellie up on the furniture, but she's old now and probably on her last days, so we bit the bullet and acceded to her comfort.

We could probably use some new chairs and the hardwood floors need to be resurfaced. Those things can wait.

What couldn't wait was my new Dropcam.

As you can see from the watermark in the lower right hand corner, I now have 24/7/365 video surveillance of the inside of my house. To a control freak, like myself, this is Nirvana. You know, as much as nirvana can coincide with being in Culver City.

I'm sure you've heard of Dropcam, they are kind of relentless with the banner ads. They're made by the same company that revolutionized thermostats, Nest, which you can spot on the wall by the staircase.

The camera itself is tiny and unobtrusive. It has a very Apple-like aesthetic to it. It delivers an incredible 110 degree wide HD image. With astonishing digital zooming.

But unlike the video cameras I have mounted on the outside of my house which feed into a DVR hidden in the closet, the Dropcam sends all its data to the cloud.

In the event a burglar broke in and spotted the camera there is no way he could do anything about being caught on film. It's so delicious in its design I'm almost hoping someone tries to break in my house.

In fact, I've started to leave the windows open and all the doors unlocked. And I've left some shopping bags from Tiffany and Cartier out by the garbage cans.

Is the Dropcam without its faults?

Not exactly. You see my wife is not thrilled that I've turned our home into a Gestapo-style "police state." And questions my sanity with regards to security, among other things.

Which means a conciliatory move is in order. Which means a trip to the furniture store for a new couch will probably be sooner than later.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not a loaner, it's a loser

I'm driving a loaner car these days.

My 2007 Lexus had to go in for a lengthy service.

"The manifold gaskets' shot and we have to replace the upper knuckle joints and recalibrate the flick-flacks. The estimate says $600, but you and I both know it's more likely to be $1600."

At that point I was whisked off to the luxurious comfort of the customer lounge. A misnomer if there ever one. Car dealerships, even those in Beverly Hills, are my least favorite place to be.

I had been given loaner cars before. This time I was careful not to get stuck in an RX 350, the official Mom Mobile of West Los Angeles. Nor did I want the clunky CT 200. Last time I got one it had been driven by a hipster fond of smoking clove cigarettes in the car.

Moreover, I'm not a fan of hybrids.

For a week I found myself asking my wife, "is the car on or off?"

Maybe I should have spent more time listening in science class, but I still don't understand how electric cars are better for the planet than those that run on fossil fuels.

Charging a hybrid requires electricity and most of our electricity comes from burning coal. By the transitive law of conspicuous consumption haven't we just swapped one poison for another?

So before they stuck me in a car I didn't want to be stuck in, I specifically requested an IS 250. I like the look and feel of the IS. Plus it has shifting paddles on the steering wheel. I haven't mastered the paddles by any means, but it's all about the illusion of driving a sports car and not letting on about my advanced age of 44.

Fortunately, they had one available. A good one. With low miles and no hint of second hand clove. Of course, as I have often documented on this blog, not all goes as planned. This is another one for the Shit-That-Only-Happens-To-Me File.

If you look at the above picture, you'll see the car has a vanity license plate. I'm not a vanity license plate guy.

And certainly not a fan of this one.

I've been driving this for three days now, blissfully unaware that while I've been smiling at pretty women stopped at red lights, I've been piloting the automotive equivalent of the world's most embarrassing T-shirt…

Monday, October 20, 2014

Creativity is not dead.

I probably don't do enough of this here at RoundSeventeen, after all I am a hired gun and should grease the skids and kiss a little ass more often, but today I am going to sing the praises of a new TV campaign.

Namely, three commercials for Tomcat Mouse Repellant.

Generally speaking, the bar for creativity for products designed to kill pests and vermin is admittedly low. Years ago, we pitched and won the Ortho Bug B Gon account for BBDO. The roach and flea and ant jokes just wrote themselves.

Nevertheless, this effort from Barton Graf 9000, the most oddly named ad agency in America, is worthy of our attention.

In very meta terms, it is absurdist theater turned into absurdist theater.

The production value is purposefully low. The USP (unique selling propositions, for you laymen) are forcefully delivered upfront. And the writing is simply inspired.

In other words, it goes about its business the way 99% of ad agencies don't go about theirs.

I can count on one hand the number of bosses that would have let this kind of work out the door. And frankly can't think of a single CEO who would've given it the green light.

"It's cheesy"

"It's silly."

"All the characters are dead."

Yes. Yes. And yes.

You can find these little gems on YouTube. For your convenience, I've embedded my favorite.

Why, you may ask, is this my favorite?

It's simple really. In this weird scenario, you have one dead mouse swinging a pointy mace and killing another mouse, who it should be noted, is already dead.

If that's not Cannes Gold, I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Lost Art of Underthinking

I was in a meeting about a month ago. Actually, it does me no good to pinpoint the date of this meeting because I was in the same meeting 2 months ago. Two years ago. 5 years ago. And 10 years ago.

You know the kind of meeting.

A dozen of the agency's top minds gathered to share their opinions, ply their office politics and grandstand on a do-little, utterly-disposable, completely-mindless piece of crap communication that will cost $581,327 in research, labor and man hours to produce. And return $27 in actual revenue.

I'm no Nobel-Prize winning economist Milton Friedman -- we had the Friedmans over for Pesach once and Roy Friedman drank all the Slivovitz and started dancing with the drapes -- but the numbers simply don't jive.

Is it any wonder why ad agencies can't make any money these days and demand employees put in 80 hour weeks while chained to the SuperDesk™.

The simplest down-and-dirty, get-it-out-the-door project has become a mental clusterfuck that makes the current Sunni/Shia/ISIS/Yazedi crises look like child's play.

And media fragmentation has only exacerbated the situation.

It may take a village to raise a child but it takes a battalion to put together a banner ad. A small army to  spit out an FSI. And a full-blown coalition to concept a simple TV spot.

Not since the last congressional caucus have I seen so many people accomplishing so little.

And yet the good folks in HR are still hiring more.

We don't need more.
We need less.

In fact we need less of everything.
Less people in the room.
Less input.
Less data.
Less client feedback.
Less testing.
Less tweaking.
Less pages in the deck.
Less Powerpoints.
Less layers.
Less top management.
Less circle backs, deep dives and base touching.
Less Devil advocates.

We need to do more with our gut.
Less with our brain.

And on that note.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Skunked Again

Came across this recently on social media.

It's a list of the Top Ten advertising blogs that every student of advertising should be reading.

Naturally, RoundSeventeen failed to make the list.

I suspect they could have expanded the list to 100 and my blog would have come in at 101. I remember when I was made a Vice President and looked forward to flying Business Class. The day after my promotion, HR put out a memo that Business Class was now only for Senior Vice Presidents.


With regard to this magical list, that's OK. Because I never viewed R17 as an exclusive blog about advertising. As my 8 loyal readers know I often delve into other matters of far less importance: Politics, religion, the meaning of life, well, the meaning of my life.

What I don't understand is the glaring omission of other true advertising blogs that merit much more attention than the 10 given ink.

Luke Sullivan has an ad blog.

Dave Trott has a great ad blog.

So does the lumbering Mark Fenske, who should write more, including a post to yours truly, which he promised me three months ago.

And then there are the ad blogs I find myself reading every day.

For my daily fill of British grumpiness, there's George Parker.

There's my pal George Tannenbaun, who often bills himself as the 10th oldest copywriter still in the business. I guess that makes me, at the tender age of 44, the 11th oldest active copywriter.

And finally there is Bob Hoffman who pens the Ad Contrarian.

I thoroughly enjoy Bob's blog because he often says what the rest of us are thinking. I try to do the same but the truth is I'm still peddling my goods on the freelance circuit and in the interest of continued employment have to keep my guns somewhat holstered.

I'm sure there are others out there that I am forgetting and I apologize in advance. And because writers are good at holding grudges, I'm also sure those writers, when pressed to rattle off their favorite blogs, will gleefully omit RoundSeventeen.

That's OK, I'm getting used to it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

$7000 down the toilet

There's a guy in nearby Calabasas selling a 1976 Corvette Stingray.

It has a 350 cubic inch, 8 cylinder engine and apart from a U-joint replacement is in perfect running condition. I'm willing to bet the glove compartment is chock full of cassettes: Foghat, Robin Trower, Little Feat, and Led Zepellin.

For another two hundred dollars I'm sure he'd throw in the classic music collection.

Guess what? I just dropped $7000 in one fell swoop.

But before you jump to conclusions, you should know that on my driveway you will NOT find a pitiful attempt to grab a second bite at the apple, some neon orange pronouncement to the world that I should be out there, in the words of Randle McMurphy, "bird-dogging chicks and banging beaver."

No, the 7K I shelled out went for something far more pragmatic, far more urgent.

Last week, after years of delay, we did a full main line sewer replacement. A PVC overhaul, from the crawl space below the house all the way to main line buried on Le Bourget Ave.

Le Bourget is French for bottomless pit of home repairs.

Like most homeowners, my wife and I had been putting off the replacement for far too long. We knew we had to do it. We just needed to wait for the perfect time. And it seemed the day before my mother-in-laws' funeral was that perfect time.

Years ago, when my daughters were in their early teens and itching for us to leave the house without them, my wife and I went out to Ugo for some passable Italian food. No sooner had we asked the waiter for desert did we receive a frantic call from my youngest. She's the reigning Culver City Queen of Drama, so we've learned to dismiss her tzimis.

"The toilet won't flush and the house smells funny."

OK Abby, we thought, we'll be home soon, not willing to abandon the chocolate mud cake we had just ordered.

When we got home we realized that the girl who cried wolf should have mentioned that the wolf, and the entire pack of wolves, had evacuated themselves in the guest bathroom and the guest shower.

I was looking at three inches of unfiltered, untreated raw sewage. If the sub-flooring in the bathroom wasn't slightly canted -- luckily -- it would have spread out into the living room.

The clean-up took three days and two 5 gallon jugs of bleach and ammonia.

We snaked the main line.
A year later we snaked it again.
6 months after that, and in decreasing intervals, we kept snaking it until last week, when we could snake it no more.

The full line trenchless replacement was a marvel to watch. Had I been thinking I would have filmed the hardworking crew of 10 Armenian plumbers as they destroyed my yard. For the record I did Google Armenia to determine their general outlook vis-a-vis, Jews.

They attached a heavy metal wedge type device to a 25 foot long PVC pipe. Then, with the aid of a hydraulic machine and thick metal cable, literally dragged the new pipe inside the old clay pipe. The metal wedge acted like a splitter and exploded the former clay pipe 4 feet below the surface of the earth.

It rumbled under the ground like a series of 3.2 mini earthquakes.

Like I said, it was fascinating. Not $7000 worth of fascinating, but that's my life.

I don't have a bright orange, 350 horsepower mid-life crises sitting on my driveway. But I do have the iron-clad guarantee that the remains of last night's roast chicken dinner have been safely whooshed away to 5 miles off the coast of El Segundo.

I hope the whales will enjoy it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A lot of Hot

The Siegel household is overflowing with food.

As I mentioned last week, following the funeral of my Mother In Law, we had a shiva call at the house.  Not one of those deeply religious shivas with covered mirrors, milk crates and 10 strange Jewish men reciting arcane Hebrew prayers.

This was more the West Los Angeles, Jewish Lite version with lots of blond shiksas and outrageously expensive catered deli foods. So much food in fact, that even the second fridge in the garage was overflowing.

In order to make room for all the corned beef and soggy cole claw, I decided to clear out and consolidate the main fridge. What I found were no less than 10 bottles of Hot Sauce. This is in addition to the always fruitful pepper plants in the garden, including Serrano, Habanero and Ghost.

All of which suggest I have an iron stomach. A little softer and pudgier on the outside than I'd like, but impenetrable like an old bank vault on the inside.

I developed this particular culinary affinity when I first moved to California. My roommate and I would chug beer, chase it with a shot of cheap Jim Beam and then challenge each other to chew on these tiny unspecified peppers that we bought from a little Mexican bodega on Sawtelle Blvd.

The peppers were brined and had a distinctive vinegary smell. That is until you bit into one and it unleashed its fury on lips, tongues and any nerve endings in sight. It was like willfully putting a live Wasp in your mouth.

Apart from the immediate dopamine rush, you might be wondering why we would subject ourselves to such pain?

The answer is simple and it is known to all who have a penchant for alcohol. It's the preventative cure for a hangover.

You can't wake up the next day overly concerned about the pounding in your head. Not when there's the more immediate and pressing agony in the 'southern hemisphere.'

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thank heaven for little girls

I read this article the other day or somebody sent it to me. To be frank, my memory as well as my resistance to a second beer with dinner, is long gone.

The article, in case you didn't bother to read it, claims that families with two daughters are the ideal family. Ideal, mind you, meaning better than any and all other possible combinations.

I must have hit the Fatherhood Jackpot because I have two daughters. Irish twins, actually born a mere 17 months apart.

The girls in the picture above are not mine ( and I've been warned by my wife not to post photos of my girls, particularly in light of my incendiary remarks regarding: religious people, advertising, politics, Taco Bell, douchebags, social media, CEO's, people with tattoos, or anyone who drives a car in a manner that would piss me off.

In other words, everybody on the planet.

According to the research, two daughters make for the most harmonious family. If only the author or the researchers had spent some time in my house. And watched the cat fights that erupted over time spent in the bathroom.

Or the heated discussions that have arisen about dirty dishes.

"I did the dishes."


"Last week."

Or the arguments that ensued over who cleaned up after the dog in the backyard.

"I already picked up the poop."

"You picked up all the small poops and left the big ones for me."

Hard to believe that one time I almost threw away all this harmony. You see, a few years after the girls were born, I felt myself yearning for a son. What father doesn't? And so with some disposable income in hand, my wife and I enlisted the aid of a fertility specialist who held out the promise of an XY embryo.

This was not at all unusual as we had to employ fertility methods for our first child. The second came naturally, because as one doctor noted, "the best cure for infertility is a pregnancy."

Using a specially-designed centrifuge, sperm containing the right genetic material for a male would be separated out and injected into fertile eggs. In this manner there were no discarded embryos or anything remotely unethical. We made several exorbitantly expensive attempts. And sadly, all were unsuccessful.

Which I suppose is a blessing. Otherwise our family would have consisted of two girls and one boy. And would have dropped us all the way down to #7 on the list.

Of course, it wasn't a total loss.
At the sperm collection center, I got to experience many of the excellent movies produced in nearby Chatsworth, including:

Balling for Dollars
In and Out of Africa
Cram Session 8
Pulp Friction
When Harry Ate Sally


In Diana Jones and the Temple of Poon

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Who ordered the Kosher meal?

I'm hungry.

You're reading this on Wednesday morning, but as I write this, it is Saturday morning, Yom Kippur, and I'm looking at a long, hot day of depriving myself of any food.

I don't know why I observe the traditions, well, some of the traditions, of my people.

As I've noted before I'm a militant atheist. There can be no God when the Syracuse Orangemen intercept a pass on the 32 yard line, march the ball down into the Red Zone and then fail to come away with a score.

And I'm not a big fan of Scripture. I don't need to get my morals and ethical guidance from an ancient goat herder who was willing to slay his son because he heard voices in his head. Or that an explosive locust infestation in Egypt was the work of the Almighty, King of King, Host of Hosts.

Particularly when the world view of that goat herder, and indeed most prophets of the time, was largely dependent on the drinking capacity and stamina of a smelly camel.

But, I abstain from food nonetheless.

More to honor my father, my father's father, and all those further down the family tree who took a beating from Cossacks, Prussians, Huns, Babylonians, et. al., just because of who they were.

Of course, that doesn't mean I give a pass to all the nonsense practiced by the more ardent members of my Tribe.

Take for instance the half-wit Hasid pictured above. In order to abide by commandment #591 set forth in the book of Ezekiel…

"Thou shalt not sit next to a woman on a Boeing 737-200, lest any of her menstrual juices contaminate thee"   

So before boarding his non-stop flight to Cincinnati, this fast-thinking zealot stopped by the airport kiosk selling large industrial-sized plastic bags, right next to the guy who sells Cinnabons, and found a unique way to do comply with the all-knowing wishes of Ezekiel.

Am I mocking? You're damned right I am mocking.

You see I have been given grief, on several occasions, about my relentless biting commentary towards Islam, the comedic gift that keeps giving. But for the record I've also had a few choice words about Christianity, the Trinity and the ubiquitous Nativity Scenes (for laughs you should go to the RoundSeventeen search box and look up Caganer.)

One anonymous reader has repeatedly taken me to task and requested that I lay some hurt on my own co-religionists.

And done.

The fact is there's nothing I enjoy more than taking potshots at Jews. It's like that old Seinfeld episode.
It's executive privilege. Plus it puts me on much safer ground. God knows I've already offended way too many people.

And now minutes before the kickoff of the Stanford game, I feel obliged to engage in some meaningful introspection. Which is difficult consider we won't be breaking out the bagels and the tuna fish salad for another 7.5 hours.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Listen Up People

Today I had planned to write about the recent flare up between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher/Sam Harris  discussing the topic of "Islamophobia."

But I'm postponing that.

For one thing I've covered the the topic before. Moreover, the issue of culture clash and extreme Islamic atrocities isn't going away anytime soon.

Instead I've made room for a more agreeable issue: the stewardship of the planet.

Agreeable in that no matter where you stand on climate change, and I know some very knowledgeable folks (including engineers and scienticians) who contest that notion,  no one disagrees with the idea of reducing pollutants, conserving our natural resources and taking better care of the planet.

Which is why I was so thrilled to receive a call from the Media Arts Lab and my old boss, Lee Clow.

They have been working tirelessly with Conservation International. And prepared a star-studded series of films, voiced by Harrison Ford, Kevin Spacey and Julia Roberts, that began running yesterday.

In addition to the films, Lee wanted to extend the campaign into social media. That's when my phone rang. Because when people think of social media, digital ninja-tude and being on the leading edge of culture, my name is usually the first in the Rolodex. (You kids can use The Google and to look up Rolodex.)

Actually I think my name came up because Lee enjoys my almost daily tweets about the adventures of gout-ridden North Korean Leader Kim Jung Un. And wanted to see if we could spark some similar magic in the Twittersphere.

Yesterday the campaign launched.

And I'm already seeing great press about it. I wish I was more involved with the making of the films, I wasn't, but I tip my hat to the creatives, the producers and all the agency people who put it together.

The social media aspect of the campaign has also started. If you click on over to Twitter, you should start following The Ocean, Mother Nature, Soil, Redwood and the others.

There you will find many tweets on behalf of Conservation International. And some of them are my handiwork.

Make a donation to CI.

Then follow, retweet, and start conversations.

Do it because it's the right thing to do for our planet. And, perhaps more importantly, an excellent and indirect way to defray the cost of my daughter's exorbitant out-of-state college tuition.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Oh Advertising, you amuse me

Last week was Advertising Week in New York City. And for the 29th year in a row, I was not in attendance.

As you might expect as a bona fide Kool-Aid hater, I'm not a big fan of conferences, confabs, symposiums, or any type of large gathering that might require me to pee in a stainless steel trough.

I have no interest in any activity that necessitates a printed schedule and wall-to-wall panels and forums.

6:45 --- 10 Reasons Why You're Not Flying Business Class

7:50 --- Sweat Shop Architecture, How to Maximize Profits by Minimizing Employee Footprint

8:35 --- Pizza, The Best and Least Expensive Way To Feed Overtime Workers

Now, I've got to tread lightly here.

Jerry Seinfeld recently gave a scathing speech at an advertising award show and was roundly criticized for his demeaning and snarky tone. He and I share many of the same views on the industry, though his perspective is quite different than mine.

He's a gazillionaire comedian who can afford to bite the hand that feeds him. Hell, if he wanted he could buy Omnicom and Publicis and stage Celebrity CEO Death Matches.

I also like to nibble on the hand that feeds me, but I'm a considerably less-wealthy freelance copywriter and can't afford to exacerbate the situation -- as Jerry did -- by also shitting on the victim's bloodied handless stump.

Truth is, advertising has been, and continues to be, very, very good to me. I've been able to make a decent living simply by being a wise ass. It's like I never left high school.

My problem with Advertising Week and all these expensive extravaganza's, and that includes SXSW, Cannes, etc., is the artifice of it all. It's the willful pretending that what we do, is not what we do.

We're not starting conversations.
No one in their right mind wants to have a conversation with Febreeze.

We're not giving brands a distinctive voice.
The voice of Burger King sounds remarkably like the voice of McDonalds. "Please come in and eat our processed meat-thingies."

And we're not making the world a better place.
15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.

For every ground shaking noteworthy campaign, like the rebirth of Apple or the meteoric rise of Old Spice, there are 10, 000 efforts, maybe 100,000, that made no one smile, cry, laugh, or think. They had zero powers of persuasion. In fact, because they were an insult on intelligence and so poorly crafted, it is more likely these campaigns dissuaded consumers.

You'll never see a panel on that.

The reality is, and 99% of my colleagues who work in the trenches and also never go to these "festivals" will agree, our business is about moving the merchandise.

So when the client says we need to find a better way to say, "There's never been a better time to visit your ________ dealer." 

We schedule meetings, do focus groups, write briefs, explore creative alternatives, and then we find a better way to say, "There's never been a better time to visit your ________ dealer." 

Or, we just go with what the client wanted.
That's the business we're in.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Semi-Pro Bono

Today marks the conclusion of Think Positive week.

I actually thought about not posting today which would have made this a short week. And would have been  a sly commentary on how little there is to be positive about. But as my pal and advertising doppelgänger George Tannenbaum says, sometimes we must just soldier on.

To make matters even more challenging, today I've decided to return to everyone's favorite RoundSeventeen topic, advertising.

But before I do, it should be noted that last month, for only the third time ever, web traffic topped
10,000 hits. Moreover, this was without the benefit of any material being reposted on agencyspy, who have chosen to no longer put up links to my blog.

I would have some choice words words for them, but this is Think Positive week and I want to remain on this uncharted High Road.

So what, you may be wondering, could I possibly have to say about advertising that might be even remotely considered positive?

Well, consider this, earlier this week I was asked to work on a project aimed at stopping the spread of the Ebola virus. That's right, somebody paid me good money to put on my thinking cap and, instead of shilling brown fizzy water or overpriced auto insurance, fire up ideas in service of something that could actually make a difference in this world.

That doesn't happen too often.
In fact, it happened twice.

Last week my old boss, and yes I am going to drop his name, Lee Clow, specifically sought me out to work on a pet project. I hadn't seen Lee in years and it was just like old times.

"Brian," he said to me, "I think you'll be perfect for this."

Lee's project, which I will detail at a later date when it is officially launched, has to do with climate change and pro-active environmentalism.

A day rate.
Two pro-bono assignments.
And the opportunity to atone for two decades worth of snarky shameless huckstering and the promotion of conspicuous consumption. I can't think of a better way to end Think Positive Week.

By the way, all you heartless cynics will be happy to know that next we will be returning to our unique brand of Jaded Bitterness and Negativity™.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thank You Marilyn

This is the chair my mother-in-law, Marilyn Weinblatt would sit in when she came to visit.

She won't be sitting in that seat any longer, as she passed away and as our new favorite rabbi put it, was "returned to the bosom of the earth." That phrasing will stick with me the rest of my days.

You might think that a deep, personal loss like this would put a crimp in this week's Think Positive theme.

But you'd be wrong.

The knowledgeable rent-a-rabbi, who, prior to the service was a complete stranger to all of us and came to us only at the behest of the quick-thinking funeral home, was a great source of wisdom and comfort. He quickly pointed out the passing of one's life is an opportunity for friends and family to be grateful.

No one could be more grateful than me.

I met Marilyn and Bob Weinblatt many years ago. In fact, it seems like it was in another lifetime despite my 44 years of age.

They were what I like to call "Nice Jews." They were from Minneapolis, and were unlike any of my shrill NY relatives who were fond of yelling, screaming, fighting and more yelling.

They had a strange, easy-to-be-around midwestern demeanor. And reminded me of the characters in the Coen Brothers, A Serious Man, which I will now have to watch again.

In essence, this denied me a great fount of humor. Because I never had the stereotypical overbearing mother-in-law.

Marilyn was never one to interfere. Or raise her voice. Or bust my balls in any way, shape or manner. Many a Borscht Belt comedian would have a field day with those kind of mother-in-laws. Thankfully, I did not.

Apart from the small profit she made on her apartment at Seizure World, or unless we find a secret stash of thousand dollar bills stuffed in a secret compartment of the case that contains her Mah Jong tiles, Marilyn was never wealthy. At least not in the conventional sense.

You see while she never had a stock portfolio or a held titles to various real estate properties, she had something more valuable. She had the pride of raising 4 incredible daughters, the sweetest, most kind-hearted women I've ever had the pleasure to meet. And I had the good fortune and foresight to marry one of them.

From that branch of the family tree, which is now thankfully part of my family tree, sprung 8 equally caring grandchildren and one recently born great grandchild. To spend any time with them is to know laughter, joy and love.

In short, Marilyn left this world a little nicer, a little sweeter, and a little better than the world she was born into.

In my book, that's about the noblest any of us could hope for.

One more thing to be grateful for, in the wake of this weekend's incredibly attended funeral, with family and friends from all across the country, there was a truckload of leftover corn beef, pastrami and Jewish Deli cookies.

In Marilyn's honor, I'm going to make sure it all gets eaten.