Monday, November 30, 2015

Gone Girls

Fitting that tonight I will polish off the last of the turkey, thereby marking the official conclusion of our festive Thanksgiving celebration.

And what a celebration it was. For the first time in a long time we had both daughters --back from college-- sleeping under our roof.

The Empty Nest was no longer empty.  

Now, if by chance you think I'm going to launch into another long-winded, sentimental, weepy piece about the joys of fatherhood and the longing for an earlier time when I would happily change their diapers often filled to the brim with some mysterious brownish, greenish, yellowish poop, think again.

I've courageously explored my softer side and exposed my emotional underbelly to readers of Round Seventeen in the past only to be resolutely rebuffed.

"Why don't you go back to writing something angry about advertising?"

"Who was the guest author today?"

"I think you were funnier when you were fat."

Moreover, there are professional consequences. Those type of mushy posts only serve to weaken the Rich Siegel Brand. You see, agencies call me when they need to hawk some cars or beer or sneakers or even some fried tortilla chips that can be "enjoyed and experienced in a communal setting conducive to the generation of sharable moments." They're looking for hard-hitting, straightforward thinking and writing that appeal to Joe Sixpack and Betty Bag O'Donuts.

What they're not looking for is some teary-eyed 44 year old father who can't keep it together because his girls abandoned him and hopped on a plane to Seattle. Or Denver.

In any case they're gone now. And the evidence of their departure couldn't be clearer.

The beds are made.
There's no toothpaste in the sink.
The snotty tissues from Abby's sinus infection are nowhere to be seen.
The Volvo has been tucked away at the back of the driveway.
The lights are not on, the heat is not escaping from open doorways and the house is no longer ringing from my rhetorical questions ("Do you guys think I'm made of money?")

And it's quiet.




Thankfully, they'll be back in three weeks.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Run Away

I normally don't blog on Holidays, knowing offices are closed, web traffic is down and the 14 people who regularly read this tripe are probably already soused and napping on the couch.

But today, Thanksgiving, when we celebrate the bounty, the harvest and the best damn food Mother Earth has to offer, I thought I'd leverage the irony to discuss the worst.

Every month or so, we get together with friends on a kitschy exploration of LA's not-so-Yelped about restaurants. We purposely go in search of run down joints that have seen better days. It's far too easy to plunk down a couple of C-Notes and dine at the city's numerous 5 star eateries, with their multipage wine lists and their artisanal selection of handpicked arugula salads.

It's much more challenging to seek out a long lost treasures of culinary delight. Last Saturday we discovered just how challenging that can be.

We found ourselves downtown, where, just a few urine-soaked blocks east of Bottega Louis, stands the famed 5-story Clifton's Cafeteria.

I'm only 44 years old so I was unfamiliar with this Southern California stalwart, but apparently Clifton's was a staple of good home cooked comfort food for millions of Angelenos. Sadly, it fell into disrepair, until some investors sank $5 million dollars to bring it back to its former glory.

They probably should have saved some money in the budget for silverware. You see, as a $9.63 an hour full time employee stood at the front of the restaurant to point out where we pick up our cafeteria trays (and that's all she did), we encountered the first of many signs of our poor dining decision.

The cutlery bin had an ample supply of metal forks. Incredibly thin, cheap metal forks stamped from sheets of cheap metal in a Taiwanese factory manned by hungry child laborers with no foot coverings. The knives did not come from the same place. They were plastic. And probably retrieved from the recycle garbage bins at a picnic at nearby McCarthur Park.

Spoons? There were no spoons.

Again, at this point we should have bailed and caught the first train back to Culver City, where at the very least we could have gotten some crappy fare at the highly overrated Titos Tacos.

But we pressed onward to the carving station, where three guys who looked like they had just been released from San Quentin, greeted hungry diners with all the hospitality of an angry porcupine. They hacked away at the Grade C Prime Rib and reluctantly dished up the macaroni and cheese which also doubles as spackling compound.

With our food (?) secured on our dirty cafeteria trays with half a set of necessary silverware, we went in search of an empty table. To our collective surprise we were able to find one. Ironically, this was the only component of our dining experience that went according to plan.


I had hoped to flag down a waiter or waitress to secure some much needed alcohol in order to take the edge off this journey to Dante's Inferno, but I believe the waiter was in the alley shooting dice with the just paroled Maitre D'.

Apparently the busboys were also in on the action. Because they too were conspicuously absent. As evidenced by the abundance of dirty dishes as far as the eye could see. On the table next to us. On the table behind us. On the seats in front of us. There were dirty dishes stacked on the artificial stone sculpture expensively made to look like the interior walls of the Grand Canyon.

Which I am now naming Clifton's Faux Fountain of Post Digestive Gloom.

Note to Management: dirty dishes should be removed from the eating area and not left in plain sight where they only serve to remind diners that they are not alone in their poor choice of restaurants, there is no God and we're all going to die.

But today is all about gratitude..

Let us all rejoice in the fact that we are NOT eating at Cliftons. That there is enough bourbon in the cabinet to get through two Armeggedons. And that we are not fans of the Detroit Lions, who will no doubt fulfill the long tradition of losing on Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Anger Mismanagement

Anger has gotten a bad name.

Given a choice, most employers would fire an angry employee before an incompetent employee (I know this from experience.) We suppress anger. We hide it from our kids. We walk away from anger when, at least when it comes to advertising, we should be embracing it.

Take for example Apple's 1984 commercial, largely the centerpiece of the new Steve Jobs movie.

Regarded as the best commercial ever committed to celluloid, the spot hinges on anger. When viewing the first rough cut, no one said, "Does she have to be so angry?" Without her frustration, boiled to perfection, there is no spot.

Another example, and one that never fails to make me laugh, is a classic Skittles spot.

This is so pitch perfect I don't know where to begin.

Neither, it appears, do any of today's marketing whizzes. Because the moment a client catches the slightest whiff of anger in a script, or a performance, or even in the enthusiastic defense of an idea, the review instinct kicks in and the call to a new agency consultant is made.

That's how averse we have become to anger.

As a result we are left with an endless stream of formulaic commercials in every variety of mind numbing cheeriness:

Bite & Smile
Drive & Smile
Wipe & Smile
Get a Free Credit Report & Smile
Furnish a Living Room & Smile
Get Unlimited Text & Data & Smile

and of course,

Conquer Erectile Dysfunction Sit in a Clawfoot Tub & Smile.

But the truth is, happiness is cheap. It's boring. And does nothing to spark my interest. Whereas anger is real. Authentic. And when left in its purest undistilled form, the most entertaining.

When I turn to Yelp or Glassdoor or any of the consumer generated review sites, the one star reviews are so much more compelling and informative than the 5 star reviews. I could spend an entire morning in bed, cozied up with a warm blanket and nonstop stream of well-crafted, steaming disgruntled employee invective.

If clients were smart they'd tap into this largely unused emotion and beat their competitors to the punch with spots that have a built-in organic truth. But my experience tells me clients, and many creative directors, are not smart and will always default to the pre-digested bite size nuggets of non-confrontational conformity.

And that has always, and will continue to, made me angry.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Those poor porn people

I was in San Francisco last week. Again. And as you can see from this snapshot from the 23rd floor of my hotel, Xenia, the Greek Goddess of Hospitality, was much kinder than the previous week when I was double-shafted and assigned to a room next to the elevator.

Correction, next to two elevators.

Hotels rooms have changed quite a bit in the last decade. Minibars with their $9 Bud Lights and $23 bag of cashews seem to have disappeared. Keurig single shot coffeemakers have become de rigueur. And now, because of all our devices, every room now features wall-to-wall electrical outlets. Some of the outlets have outlets.

One thing that hasn't changed is Spank-O-Vision. Hotels still have it, though I have to imagine this one-time ludicrous revenue stream is now running as dry as the creeks feeding the mighty Kern River.

Thank you Interwebs.

With all the free porn on the Internet, and I'm told by friends there is quite a bit, it's not just the hotels that are hurting. The porn manufacturers and distributers must be dry humping themselves in frustration.

Years ago, I had a long term temporary gig at DirecTV.

One of my coworkers told me it was impossible to access the 7th floor of the corporate headquarters in stodgy El Segundo. That, he explained, is where all the workers -- and there were hundreds -- were hunkered down in the cubicle farm doing their best to keep the pay per view porn pipeline flowing with the latest and greatest in MILFs, Barely Legal Latino Babes and a full complement of Fetishist fare.

"Now showing on Channel 594, Fits of Fisting. They're hot, they're angry, they're a handful!"

 I would have given anything to have gained access to that floor, just to witness how the banality of the corporate world found itself intersecting with the titillation of adult film making. Imagine how all the mundane office chitter chatter would sound as it passed through the Chatsworthian prism of porn.

"Hey Phil, we need you in the status meeting, we're going through the 3rd quarter marketing plans for the Lesbian Threesome Packages."

"Who left and didn't brew a new pot of coffee? I'll bet it was those slobs in the Bukake group."

"Bob, put down those P&L reports on Busty Nurses and fill out your time sheets. Otherwise I'm gonna hear all about it from Janet in Accounting."

Sadly, all that's going away. I have to imagine the 7th floor at DirecTV will soon be evacuated. And the porn people will be replaced by something else. I'm guessing it will be the burgeoning Fantasy Football phenomena.

It just won't be the same anymore. Because let's face it, a piece of paper left in the Xerox machine regarding the spread on the Chargers/Saints Game is far less interesting than one entitled Profit Margins on Spread Those Silky Thighs, Volume 12.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Crappy Holidays

If you work in the world of car advertising it is once again The Most UnWonderful Time of the Year.

You know what I'm talking about: the end of year sales events.

To illustrate today's post, I've selected a picture that does not feature any recognizable logo. I'm 44 years old and have been doing car advertising for a long time and I'll be damned if I could tell you who makes the car pictured above. It doesn't matter. Not only do all the cars look alike these days. So does their advertising.

It's no ones but fault but our own.

We use the same directors. Who cast the same people. To shoot at the same tired collection of locations (I'm looking at you Modern, Upscale Architecturally Designed House with the sleek kitchen featuring white cabinets, white subway tile and black soapstone counters).

And, in this sea of sameness, we roll out the same chirpy dialogue and the same over-enthusiastic call to action.

I'm not indicting anyone. Or any particular agency. Hell, I'm a mercenary and have been complicit in many of these bedshitting sales events. Moreover, if the check clears, I'm happy to help you with next year's Non-Denominational, Gift Giving Clearance Extravaganza.

I'll sift through hours of running footage. I'll cast perky plasticine people. And I'll sort through cut after cut of energetic, holiday-ish music that inoffensively captures the spirit of Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza while simultaneously driving hordes of people to their nearest ____________ dealer. Offer ends soon.

Of course, it doesn't have to be like that.

Five years ago, I was hired by my friend and one of the best creative directors in the business, John Hage, to put together a different kind of Year End Sales Event. It was one of the best freelance assignments I ever experienced.

We were given time to explore different directions. None of this, "Here's the three page brief, let's check in and see where you're at after lunch."

We hired a great director, Rick LeMoine.

We found actors who could improvise.

And we had a client who trusted our decisions and gave us enough leash to poke around Quirkyland and put people on screen doing and saying things that usually end up on the cutting room floor. Or on Director's cuts.

You know me, I don't like to self-promote or toot my own horn, but I went back and viewed a few of the dozen spots (art directed by the amazing Stan Toyama) and they still produce a laugh. So, in that immodest holiday spirit of sharing…

No one is suggesting that you buy a $40,000 car as a gift for your loved one. If you can afford it and need a new set of wheels that's great. But it is hardly the only the present that will bring a smile of delight.

Sometimes that can be accomplished with a basket of Incredible Edibles. Or, if your spouse isn't tickled by the notion of chocolate covered cantaloupe, what about a book?

Who doesn't love getting a book?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The XB14 is here

I'm absolutely positive that today's news will have no effect on your life.


But it has a 100% chance of changing mine.

After living in the same Culver City house for 22 years, raising two kids, and going through a complete remodel, including the addition of a second story, we are finally getting air conditioning.

Not just one air conditioner mind you, but two. Because my house has two furnaces. And after doing a lot of research and listening the pitches from the overly enthusiastic A/C salesman, I discovered I need to attach a unit to each furnace.

Thus doubling my cost.
Why would I expect anything less?
If you need any reminders this chart showing my double elevator adjacent room at a business hotel speaks volumes.

But I'm not here to gripe.
Money be damned.

The Siegels are now entering the 21st century and ready to do battle with the global warming induced soaring temperatures.

Yes, that means we'll be impacting the planet with a larger carbon footprint.

But, it also means I'll be in a better mood so I won't have to drink as much alcohol.

We'll have to close the windows, so I won't have to listen to the neighbor's dogs.

And most importantly, I'll be schvitzing less. And less schvitzing means I'll be changing my underwear and T-shirts less often. So we'll be doing less loads of laundry. Making my increased BTU consumption and that whole carbon thing, a wash.

It's getting warm in here, think I'll turn it up to Eleven.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Don't know if you saw this, as news items go, this should not have even come up on the radar, but Twitter recently changed their Favorite button to a Heart button.

Like I said, hardly newsworthy, unless of course you're the editor of ADWEEK, the advertising industry's leading trade publication. Then, it's not only front page material it demands some hard-nose, in-field journalism.

Adweek dispatched TWO hungry reporters to interview eight, count em, EIGHT Digital Gurus to weigh in on the paradigm-shifting, game-changing matter before the frustrated journalists at Ad Age could even get another blank cassette in the recorder.

I'm sure there was some Monday morning quarterbacking going on after that journalistic debacle.

"How did we let Adweek get the scoop on us?"

"First they beat us to the SuperDesk™ story and now this?"

"People, we need to roll up our sleeves and get in the trenches. How are we doing on that list of the Hottest 25 Chief Creative Officers Under 25 Years Old?"

But enough imaginary competitive squabbling, what, you are probably wondering, did these EIGHT Digital Gurus have to say on the ground-shaking re-arrangement of pixels found at the bottom of every 140 character tweet? Not surprisingly, there was a wealth of wisdom spewing from these experts oozing with professional expertise.

Said one prognosticator:

"This will add more meaningful and emotional actions for marketers to measure content performance and to base targeting and optimization of paid media on."

God, yes. He used the words 'content', 'base targeting' and 'optimization' in one sentence. Not sure what any of that means but last week when I favorited a tweet from Hellman's Mayonnaise, I had a meaningful emotional action and was almost in tears.

This expert was not alone.

"Twitter can be a lonely place for users when you tweet something and no one gives you a response or feedback -- this will help."

I certainly hope so. I once tweeted about Kim Jung Un, the North Korean Child King and no one Hearted it. I got very despondent and had to call my wife. Also, to ask her to pick my shirts at the dry cleaners.

The EIGHT interviews also produced this nugget of sagacity, which if you read carefully and spot the indecisiveness, is actually two nuggets of sagacity.

"Brands will likely get more 'likes' than they did 'favorites' because liking something is a much lower barrier than making it your 'favorite,' especially when it comes to retweeting. However, this move by Twitter could create less retweets, which generates more reach for a brand. On the plus side, it may help with standardizing reporting across Facebook and Twitter as it will be a 'like' for 'like.' "

If I've said that once I've said it a hundred times.

The crack trade reporters could have investigated the recent salary and bonus freeze at Publicis and correlated that to the $50 million spent on the bungled Omnicom/Publicis merger, but they went a different direction.

Nice job Adweek, nice job.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Last week, my brother and I went to Seattle in the first of what I believe will become many annual pilgrimages.

We went to visit my daughter at UDUB  (University of Washington) and to watch the Huskies, a football team largely financed by my tuition dollars.

As one might expect in early November, in the great Pacific Northwest, it was raining. It was raining the minute we stepped off the plane and it continued to rain until our plane reached 15,000 feet in altitude on our return flight two and a half days later.

Naturally, my brother had secured us seats for the game in the uncovered section of the stadium. In other venues, these seats are known as LOGE. In Seattle they're known as the Sucker Seats.

It was here, under a driving rain and a biting perpetual wind, that my brother turned to me, pulled the plastic poncho away from his cheek, and said…

"Too bad we didn't do any tailgating before the game."

It should be noted that he and I are cut from different cloth. He's an accountant. I did everything in my life not to become an accountant. He's single, has no kids and is unburdened. I'm married with a wife, two kids, two college tuition bills and two mortgages. He has a pension plan. I work in advertising.

I turned to this strange man and said, "Wait, what?"

In addition to the miserable weather that should have sent Lewis & Clark back towards warmer, drier climes, I pointed out what seemed to me to be very obvious reasons why we didn't Tailgate; we walked to the game from our on-campus hotel, we didn't have a car for the parking lot and, perhaps most importantly, we didn't know anybody at the game.

So what, he replied, adding that he does it all the time when he hops on a plane and follows the Notre Dame football team from city to city. By the way, he never attended Notre Dame. And has even gone solo on these football extravaganzas. He's just that into the Fighting Irish.

You just mosey up to people in the parking, flash your green jersey and commence tailgating with the locals? I asked.

"Absolutely," he replied. "They hand me beer, sausage sandwiches and a folding chaise chair to sit and 'chillax' for 6 hours before the game."

I squirmed in my pants, which were soaking wet from the metal bench, pulled the hefty bag over my face and turned to this man who allegedly shares the same DNA as me but not the same streak of misanthropy, and said that sounds like Holy Hell.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dear France

Dear France, Welcome to Israel.

This has been a particularly bloody year in the land of Bordeaux, Voltaire and Brigit Bardot.

It was only last January that several Islamic Terrorists…oh wait, I'm not supposed to assign them any label for fear of offending 1.6 billion of their co-religionists…let's just call them Zealous Cartoon Haters, ambushed the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

They killed a dozen people there.
Over cartoons!

And because they still had ammo in their automatic rifles, stopped by a kosher market to kill 4 Jews. Again, nothing to do with religion. Because as history has taught us, killing Jews doesn't require much in the way of justification anyway.

But this is my larger point. History hasn't taught us.


At all.

Because before this current wave of Allah-Akbar shouting murderous insanity, before the Twitter-inspired Arab Spring, and before American soldiers ever set foot in Iraq, the Israelis have seen it, lived it and buried their innocent children the same way the French will be doing this week.

Maybe you don't remember, but I do.

The PLO. Black September. Fatah. PFLP. Abu-Nidal. All, predecessors of Al Qaeda and ISIS.

I remember El Al jets being hijacked. I remember bombings at weddings, pizza parlors and kindergartens in Tel Aviv and Haifa. I remember 11 Israeli athletes being butchered on the tarmac during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Weightlifters, Wrestlers and Gymnasts, murdered in cold blood, while the world celebrated the spirit of brotherhood and our common humanity.

The Israelis are the kvetching canary in the coal mine. They tried to warn us then. Just as they are trying to warn us now.

"This is not going away. This cannot be ignored. This is your problem as well as ours."

I have no idea what the answers might be. Nor it seems to do our leaders-- French, Russian, American or otherwise. But I do know the problem cannot be addressed if the problem is not even properly identified.

It is about ISLAMIC Terrorism -- Koran-dictated, holy violent war waged against kuffar apostates and infidels for the establishment of a global Caliphate, under Sharia law, for the grace and glory of Allah, PBUH.

If we cannot get that through our thick, pollyanna, granola-crunching politically correct skulls, then the carnage that has bloodied the des rues of Paris will soon stain the boulevards and avenues of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Dear America, Welcome to France.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Tale of Room 2606

I just flew in from Seattle and San Francisco and boy are my arms tired.

From writing letters, that is.

Letters to the Chief Customer Service Officers.

After a longer than expected flight -- aren't they always?-- I checked into the Holiday Inn in SF. Not my first choice in hotels, but the client was paying for it, so I had no say in the matter. I was assigned room number 2606, on the top floor of the building. Normally that would be a good sign because I don't like having guests in the room above me, as I am abnormally noise averse.

Even as I write this in the relative early morning silence of my home I am wearing my trusty Bose Quiet Comfort 15c's, the state of the art in noise canceling technology.

Also, through years of traveling experience and because I married a smart woman, I know not to accept any hotel room number that ends in 1 or 0, as those are the shitty rooms wedged between the wonky ice making machines and the elevators. Well, the folks at Holiday Inn didn't get the room numbering memo and as you can see from the chart affixed to the back of the door -- yes I took a picture of it -- my room, 2606, was located next to the elevator shaft.

The astute among you will also notice that it is adjacent to TWO elevator shafts!

If ever an infographic summed up my life, this one would win the prize.

Moreover, when I went downstairs to the front desk, the clerk mentioned that many top floor residents are bothered by the industrial HVAC equipment located, you guessed it, on the roof. Directly above the ceiling which is apparently made of the same rice paper thin material used to separate the rooms in the hotel. (Dear Guest in room 2604, I hope your nagging productive cough clears up very soon.)

At 1:39 AM I  found myself schlepping all my stuff to a new room on the 7th floor, a room as my luck would have it and I deduced from the residue fumes, had just recently been painted.

End of travel nightmare story, right?


On the last leg of my trip, I boarded an American Airlines flight, also delayed, and took my aisle seat. It was one of those new 737's with the electrical outlet and a decent amount of leg and hip space. But all those creature comforts vanished in a nanosecond as I noticed a large-ish couple making their way to the back of the plane.

As if there were any doubt, they were assigned to the middle and window seat right next to me. Look, I'm a fat, fattish, guy and don't like to participate in fat shaming. But I'm going with executive privilege much the way African American people are permitted to use the n-word or Jews are allowed to make jokes about Treblinka.

This guy was huge.

I'm no Midway carnival weight-guesser, but I'd say he was well north of 400 lbs. And as Siegel fortune would have it, he opted not for the window but for the middle seat. Next to me. As I was texting my wife about this invasion of my personal space, she requested a picture. So I nonchalantly put the phone in my lap and surreptitiously grabbed a snapshot.

I'm not sure the picture does it justice.

There was so much of this man, he could not bring his arms down onto the armrest. How awful it must be to go through life in such an uncomfortable body, I thought. Just as I was starting to feel sorry for the man, the flight attendant with the snack cart came by. He had the turkey sandwich platter. And for good measure had another one.

I went to the bathroom and when I got back I noticed my cheap styrofoam pillow was gone. I'm pretty sure he ate that for dessert.

When we got to the gate, I took advantage of my aisle seat location and bolted for the exit door. As fast as one can possibly bolt from a fully-loaded 737 plane that is. Considering how difficult it was for the man to wedge himself into the seat, I couldn't imagine how hard it would be for him to get out.

They either used the Jaws of Life or lubed him up with those little pats of butter, for which the airline now charges an additional one dollar fee.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Caveat emptor

Last week, Activision, makers of Guitar Hero and Call of Duty, purchased King Digital Entertainment, makers of Candy Crush, for 5.9 billion dollars.

I'm thinking this confectionary-themed arcade game is not only addictive but causes serious cavities. In the skull.

Full disclosure: I am not a gamer. Never have been. Never will be. Don't have the slightest interest in even knowing what Candy Crush is all about. I'm assuming it's about crushing candy, but that's all the valuable real estate in my brain that I'm willing to give up.

Moreover, I don't know a single soul that plays Candy Crush.

Or would be willing to admit they do.

Maybe that's a function of my particular West Los Angeles demographic: College-educated Affluent Influencers, 24-44, with many annoying affectations, unfounded beliefs in homeopathic alternative medicines and a wholly unscientific obsession with the retrograde position of Mercury in the celestial skies.

And while they're far too sophisticated for childish video games, I must deduce that millions upon millions of people in the hinterland are not. In fact, for 5.9 billion dollars, I have to assume there are entire states, like Iowa, Missouri and North Dakota, whose entire population are doing nothing but playing Candy Crush, morning, noon and night.

"Nurse, hand me the Watkin's forceps and clamp the anterior vein."

"Not now doctor. If I crush the lemon sucker I can reach Level 38."

Clearly, the folks at Activision possess a great deal more business acumen than I do. And considering how they boned me in 2007, it would be all too natural to bear a grudge against these folks.

But I don't.
I'm simply calling into question the wisdom of spending 5.9 billion dollars on a well choreographed arrangement of pixels.

I'm sure they've done their homework and know that the Candy Crush crush will soon fade away. Consequently they're counting on the genii at King Digital to craft the next masturbatory big phenomena.

That's where I come in.
And maybe you.

I don't want to sound immodest, but I've had a fair amount of success in many genres. I've created ad campaigns, written movies, TV shows, a magazine parody, a blog, a couple of niche Tumblrs, and authored two books. I don't know if I've mentioned it but one of the books, Round Seventeen &1/2: the Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Inefficient is currently in stock and available on Amazon for just $12.95.

How hard, I have to ask myself, can it be for a well-versed 44 year old freelance copywriter to come up with a video game? Not hard. And not so expensive either.

For an initial sign on fee of $10 million dollars I will put into place the apparatus needed to get the ball rolling.

I'll take a modest salary of $25 million.

I'll build out some space in Playa Vista with offices (no SuperDesks), hardware, software and colored Post It Notes, the obligatory pool and ping pong table, and even some Keurig machines, for another $25 mill. Ballpark.

I'll leverage my relationships with other outstanding creative people -- writers, art directors, storyboard artists, UX designers -- and put them on the payroll. A lot of these people work in ad agencies and would sell their grandmothers to get out. 100 creatives? Pfffft, I can get them for $479, 381. Roughly.

We'll throw in another $50 million for setbacks, revisions and do-overs.

Total cost to Activision -- $100 million and change. I'm no whiz at math and neither are the folks at Activision, but that's the whole shebang, kit and caboodle, soup to nuts, for about 1.6% of the original $5.9 billion.

Hold the phone, there it is, an idea for the next big video game -- Soup To Nuts.

Pencils down.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Too many freelancers

In the past week and a half I have discovered three colleagues who decided to hand in their staffer key cards, with all its incumbent amenities: 24 hour access to the office, free weekend parking and enough complimentary NutraSweet packets, colored post it notes and mechanical pencils to last a lifetime.

Not surprisingly, they've jumped right into the Freelance Pool.

My friend Mike Folino, who bills himself as the World's Best Freelancer (er….cough) often complains that my nonstop railing against the holding companies and my deadly accurate portrayal of sad agency life is only fueling the creative department departures.

"Siegel, what are you doing? You sit there in your pajamas, drink your coffee, put on your noise canceling headphones in your comfortable den and drone on about Open Office Plans and shitty status meetings, all while pulling down a healthy day rate. And sometimes two. You're a Retention Manager's nightmare."

In deference to Mike, and other well established freelancers who now find themselves swarmed by competition and fighting harder and harder for gigs, I've decided to spill some ugly truths about the freelance life.

Dry Spells -- Contrary to what some might believe, there are times when my phone doesn't ring and the only email I get is from pharmaceutical companies pitching me their expensive, hard-to-swallow (and useless) penis enhancement pills.

When one gig ends I don't seamlessly roll right into the next. I'll often find myself in a non-revenue earning gap of a day or two. Or even three. And with my new book about advertising completed and soaring up the Amazon sales charts...

... it's difficult to know what to do with myself. There's only so much napping and daytime bourbon-drinking an underachieving writer can do.

Smiling and Dialing -- Something else they don't tell you when you leave the safety net of the agency, you have to hustle. You are in pitch mode every day. You may be a 44 year old copywriter with more than 30 years experience, but that wealth of experience means little, if anything, to the folks in charge of handing out the gigs. Moreover, they're getting younger and younger and may not even be familiar with your dated credentials.

"What's a double page spread? Are you sure you have the right number?"

Making Nice -- In my early days, I was quite the hothead. My anger would get the best of me. I would snap. Bark. And bite. I did not suffer fools well. I still don't. But now, as a freelancer, a temporary employee whose livelihood depends on being collegial, when a client says or requests something stupid, I feel compelled to bite my tongue and reply with words that do not come naturally to me: "Awesome", "Super" and "Wish I had thought of that."

Trust me, that can be the hardest part about being a freelancer.

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Think long and hard on this my art director or copywriter friend. You may not be cut out for a life with a lot less stress, a lot more money and unpredictable flexibility in your schedule. In which case, I suggest you keep your day job.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Regrets, I have a few

I wrote hundreds of Apple ads and never listened to a word Steve Jobs had to say.

Of course an opening line like that begs for some explanation. So here goes.

In 1993 I was lured away from Chiat/Day/Los Angeles to work at BBDO on Wilshire Blvd. Though I had a head for math, science and calculus, I had no experience with computers at all. That didn't seem to bother the powers that be.

They hired me to write copy and that's what I did. Often until 1 or 2 in the morning, pending many layers of corporate approval. You see, Jobs was no longer with the company. It was being run by former PepsiCo executives. These brown fizzy water professionals believed they could turn the Mac into America's favorite business machine.

I don't like staying late at the office.

I like it even less to deal with brown fizzy water cretins who can't make up their mind.

Or who do make up their mind only to have it overturned by a brown fizzy water poobah on a higher level of the corporate hierarchy.

I was miserable. Left that job and ended up back home at Chiat/Day. Almost about the same time Steve Jobs ended up back home at Apple.

(My wife and I just went to see the Aaron Sorkin bio-pic this weekend so the timing is fresh in my head.)

In 1998, the resurgence of Apple was well underway. I had some minor successes at Chiat at about the same time. It was then that Lee Clow approached me.

"Rich, one of the senior writers on Apple is going back to NY. We need a guy who can channel Steve's voice and write copy that demystifies sophisticated computer advancements. I want to throw your oversized hat in the ring."

Lee gave me a weekend to mull over the proposition.

If I could take back that Monday Morning before the turn of the century I would.

Here I was being given an opportunity to work with one of the most influential men in the history of mankind. A chance to see and be part of the iPod, the iPhone and the complete democratization of technology. A ground floor, once in a lifetime bite at the Apple that could have changed the course of my career and made me and future generations carrying my DNA, fabulously wealthy.

I said "No" when I probably should have said "Yes". Swayed perhaps by one last comment from Lee.

"I know you like to write funny. But Steve doesn't do funny."


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Some Much Needed Good Luck

They say if you've got your health you've got everything.

As of late, it hasn't felt that way.

There was my seaweed-soaked "vacation" in Mexico.
The setbacks and mishaps of publishing a book.
The noisy neighborhood canine adventures.
The departure of both my college girls.
And a string of freelance gigs that failed to materialize at the last second.

First world problems if ever there were any, but stressful nevertheless.

Happily, the tide seems to have turned.

We have adjusted to our new lives as empty nesters.
I didn't embarrass myself with the book, though it appears publishing is not the most direct route to financial gain.
And work, in the form of many assignments, is coming in from all directions.

Of course there can be no better indication that Lady Luck has come to pay a visit to Culver City than the events of last week.

You see because we are busy, and lazy, we, like many Southern Californians, have a cleaning lady. She comes twice a month to clean and do the stuff we don't want to. I want to say she is Mexican but I think she might be from Guatamala.

Either way, contrary to what Donald Trump might think, we don't need less of these people in our country, we need more.

She is soft spoken, friendly, law abiding and works harder than any human being alive. Certainly harder working than any of the orange or blue-vested cretins you'll find roaming the aisles at Home Depot or Best Buy.

Last week our cleaning lady called to tell us she would not be able to make her appointment as she needed to take care of her mother, a woman who must be in her 80's. Instead, she asked if her daughter, a part time student putting herself through college, could fill in and earn a little extra money.

Not a problem, we said.

Her daughter, a fluent English speaking woman in her late twenties showed up and didn't leave the house for 6 & 1/2 hours. She scrubbed. She scoured. She cleaned. She found areas of the house I didn't even know we had.

When I emerged from my office after writing some banner ads, I discovered she had ripped the entire refrigerator apart. She tore through that 26 cubic foot appliance like a White Tornado, more accurately, a Brown Tornado. At one point she asked me for a Phillips Head screwdriver so she could remove the Kenmore label and clean behind it.

As she was walking out the door, she asked if it would be alright to sub for her mom in another two weeks. The selfish part of me wants her to keep coming back. Forever. She'll have this house cleaner than Cedar Sinai Hospital. Of course, I know my luck and when it's good it never lasts too long.

Oh shit, I found a flea on the dog.

Correction, fleas.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Real Internet

Last week, I returned to the Baldwin Hills overlook. It had been a while since I made it up The Hill and now that we are falling into Daylight Savings Time it appears my late afternoon 7 mile hikes will become even more infrequent.

I always go well prepared. A camelback full of water. An iPhone full of juice. And a tiny iPod full of randomly selected songs.

Occasionally, one of the songs is not a song at all. But an old radio spot that managed to find its way into my iTunes library.

One of those spots, for Earthlink popped up out of the blue. I wrote it at a time when China was still following the path of Mao Tse Tung and Russia had just awakened from its drunken experiment with Bolshevism.

I decided to bring this to your attention because there has been a lot of press lately about good clients/bad clients, good agencies/bad agencies.

When I wrote this spot, I had the good fortune of working with one of the best clients -- Claudia Caplan, who is also a good friend. Prior to the Earthlink assignment, I knew of Claudia because she had made a name for herself as one of the top copywriters in Southern California. She had won all kinds of awards and her work was featured in many of the ad annuals.

This gave me a chance to see -- and steal -- her writing style. Always sharp, always intelligent, always well-crafted.

Long story short, we hit it off right away. I'm here to tell you there is nothing better than to have a former copywriter or art director, someone who "gets it" and knows what it takes to come up with ideas, as your client.

We had a good run on Earthlink.

We did smart, funny work. Messed around with animators for some very interesting TV. Increased their subscriptions. And even won a few awards. Then, as it always does, the brass at Earthlink brought in some MBA hack from Coca Cola who quickly demanded we 'lobotomize' the campaign.

I think we all know how that story ends.

Nobody does radio anymore.

I'm still plugging away as a 44 year old freelance copywriter.

And Claudia has some big wig job in NYC. She has tried to explain to me what she does, but when I hear words like disintermediate and shifting platform development, the hair in my ears tends to bunch up and I drift off to fantasies about Derek Jeter's fiancé.

I'm not saying I wish Claudia would get fired from her job and become the next CMO at a large brewery or automaker and hire my partner and me to create the next campaign, but I'm not not saying that either.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Selling by unselling

It isn't often that I get to come on to Round Seventeen and blather on about advertising genius; lately those two words have become an oxymoron.

More surprisingly, I, nor any of my immediate colleagues, had anything to do with the brilliance of which I am about to speak.

Last week, REI announced they would not be opening their doors for Black Friday, the consummate day of shopping after Thanksgiving that often involves random bloody violence, gluttonous consumerism, and long lines of eager buyers camped out in a parking lot with the hope of scoring a 40% discount on a cheap Chinese-made toaster oven.

In other words, the trifecta of Modern American Culture.

But REI -- the leading purveyor of outdoor activity equipment -- will have none of that. While others are zigging, they are zagging. Or in the parlance of mountaineers, they are abseiling while others are jumaring.

Some retailers are following suit and shuttering their doors, but REI, more likely someone at REI's advertising/PR agency told them to make a big stink out of the deal. Because -- and this is the genius part -- it played right into the brand's creedo to get people outside more often.

By forfeiting whatever revenue would normally come in on that day, they would more than make up for it in the 364 other days of the year when their name had been firmly cemented as the go-to place for legitimate sporting equipment.

Not to mention all the free publicity the story generated.

Full disclosure: I am an REI Club Member and pre-disposed to like this brand. Before my yearly camping trips, my wife and I can be found scouring the aisles of the local outlet. She, for new camping outfits. Me, for some clever new device that will eliminate the need to get out of the tent when nature and my small bladder calls.

Years ago, my partner and I were asked to lead the pitch for Hardee's, or as we referred to them, the shoe-less, biscuit-baking Appalachian cousin to Carl's  Jr.

For research purposes, we flew to Alabama or Mississippi or one of the Jew-hating states to sample the goods. It wasn't good.

The food sucked.
But the place where the food was sold sucked even more.

We had this crazy idea: we would walk into the pitch for the $40 million account and tell Hardee's to cut their advertising budget in half. Then, as responsible brand stewards, we would suggest they funnel the $20 million into operations: cleaning up the stores, fixing the broken equipment, and firing the employees who had the enthusiasm of a three-toed sloth.

How refreshing it would be for a client to hear an ad agency forego half the billings for the better long term interests of the company?

Maybe it was because negotiations were still under way with the Holding Company or maybe it was because it was 4 PM on a kegger Friday afternoon when we brought the idea up with our agency "management" but that idea went nowhere fast.

"Are you kidding? That's about 2 million in revenue. I spent that much money on RosĂ© wine at Cannes last year. Why don't you try to do something funny with their star?"

We didn't win the business.
And for bringing up similar boat-rocking ideas and for being contrarian in general, my partner and I were shown the door.

None of which helped the Hardee's brand.
But in retrospect, Getting Quit was the best thing that ever happened to mine.