Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Easter Funny

Last Sunday was Easter.

I know from early, religious school training, that Passover is right on its heels. I'm a little hazy on how the two holidays were related.

I think Jesus, a rabbi, and his disciples were having a Last Supper, which was actually a Passover Seder.

In remembrance of the 400 years of Hebrew bondage under the iron-fist of the Egyptians, Jesus ate matzo, bitter herbs and brisket. When the boredom of the Hagaddah and the overcooked meat didn't kill him, the Romans crucified him the very next morning.

Then, to sooth all the mourning people, God sent a large rabbit with an even larger wicker basket throughout the land, distributing multicolored marshmallow treats and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs.

I may be wrong on that.

In the past I've taken many potshots at the Abrahamic religions. Particularly my own. You may remember last year's recipe for home-made matzo, including the gentile blood of neighborhood children.

And, though I've been mute recently (so that no one will mistakenly take me for a Trump supporter), I've slung a few pointed arrows at the silliness found in the Holy Quran.

So it seems only fitting that I take a good hard look at Easter. Of course this is where it gets difficult. Because who can argue and contest the logic of the Resurrection story.

A political opponent of the Roman regime is executed. His lifeless body is brought to a cave. His followers enter the cave 3 days later, because who wouldn't want to check up on a corpse. And he is gone. So they conclude he is the One.

Not a story I subscribe to, but hey anything's possible.

Including the likelihood that very small children would not throw a tantrum when seated next to a 6 foot man dressed as a deranged Bunny from a Wes Craven movie.

Take it away, Internet.

I had never heard of an Easter Penguin. Must be something new. Maybe it's a Lutheran thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Steam 'em and gleam 'em.

I've often said, "it's harder to do bad advertising than it is to do good." And I don't know if you've noticed lately, but there is a lot of bad advertising out there. I've been watching the NCAA basketball tournament, so I know.

There's a couple who are so averse to talking about their retirement plans they go to extreme lengths not to talk about it. The wife purposely messes up the windows. The man busts the gutter and throws his car keys over the fence. Oh the hilarity.

There's another cloying version of the McPick Two jingle.

And there's car porn. Lots of car porn. On beautiful, dimly lit urban streets. On windy mountain roads. And streaking across desert flats. All accompanied with the worst voiceover copy that seems to have been written by a brain dead committee of twelve.

I don't have anything on the air, but I'm just as guilty for polluting corporate boardrooms as anyone else. It's how I put food on my family's diner table.

Decks and Checks.

What makes bad advertising so difficult is that it starts out bad --mostly because the client has asked for something bad -- trying to cram 10 lbs. of horseshit into a bag clearly designed for only 5lbs. of horseshit.

And then it only gets worse. There are meetings. Revisions. More meetings. More horseshit.

And then, when the turd has been finely polished, it is offered up before the Media Department, the new overlords of the advertising kingdom.

"These are great, but we only bought 15 second spots. Can you make these work in 15 seconds?"

Of course we can. Because we are professionals. We see problems as opportunities. And we relish a good challenge.

I'd like a different kind of challenge.

For once I'd like a Creative Director to look over the work, turn to me and say, "Can you push it even further? Can you give it more edge? Can you increase the tension and make this thing -- could be a spot, a print piece, or even a digital idea -- more impactful? Can you do that Mr. Creative Guy?"

But, as a fellow trench-dweller, you know that's not what happens. The changes we're asked to make are of a more mundane nature.

The client doesn't like the word, tangy. Or, plus. Or, affordable.

We don't have the budget for an elephant, can it be a very large dog?

Can you say the name of the product in the first 6 seconds?

When I started writing this blog, I jokingly named it RoundSeventeen as a hat tip to the ridiculous number of changes we need to make in order to get a Skip Ad on the air or on a YouTube preroll. Seventeen seemed excessive. And properly connoted the dysfunctional nature of the creative process.

That was way back in 2009.

Today, a piece of work can go through 17 rounds of revisions before I take my noontime swim.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Head in the Clouds

Today's post comes to you complements of new technology and the advertising industry's inclination to replace insight with gadgetry, representational thinking and the exuberant rectal abuse of the English language.

Put a different way...


Plus this:

Equals this:

Monday, March 28, 2016

Retainment vs. Recruitment




You might be wondering what all the excitement is about. Or, you might have clicked away to Adweek to read another one of their crack journalistic pieces: 27 under 27, The 27 Media Associates Under 27 Years Old Who Took Home the Most Logo-Emblazoned Oven Mitts.

But if you have stuck around, I finally figured it out. You know it. The Exit Plan. The seismic career move that will see me through to retirement and keep me out of a dirty nursing home.

Every copywriter and art director I know is looking for the Exit Plan.

Some will open up a frozen yogurt shop. Some will turn to real estate and sink their money into useless plots of desert land hoping the government will want to lease it for a solar panel farm -- that's not gonna happen. And some seasoned veterans will find relief in the chaotic up and down world of freelancing.

They will discover, as I have, that uncomfortable feeling walking into a new shop and the staffers glaring, contesting their very presence...

"Why is Grandpa in the office?"

Well, those days are numbered for this 44 year old.

You see, I'm transitioning out of copywriting into the new lucrative world of Human Resources. I'm going to create my own job title and offer my services to ad agencies throughout the land as their new Chief Retainment Officer.

You might read this as some harebrained idea from a guy with no head for business. Or simply another comedic vehicle to pad the blog on a slow news day, but I'm completely serious.

Agencies spend a shitload of money trying to attract talent. With the recent Gustavo Martinez debacle at JWT, they're sure to spend even more recruiting women and minorities.  Though not "Fucking Jews", there are enough of those.

It's a sizable investment.

But they might as well be tossing that money in the toilet. Or the Rich Siegel College Tuition Relief Fund.

Because, let's face it, after 2 years of servitude or the 78th unpaid weekend of pad thai noodles and deck-building, whichever comes first, that "talent" bolts. With it goes all the money the agency has sunk into them: training, relocation fees, and the priceless ability to make sense out of the strategic briefs coming out of the Planning department.

Agencies need to find a way to retain what they have worked so hard to recruit.

That's where I come in. Because, perhaps better than most, I know why they are leaving.

As the Chief Retainment Officer, I'm going to fix all that. I'll be the bull in the china shop. Re-aligning briefs. Canceling meetings. And telling clients, "No."

I'll reverse the flow. Instead of creatives leaving to go elsewhere, they'll be lining up at the door, camped out in the parking lot, just hoping to get in.

I'll help create the kind of environment that is conducive to great work and pays untold dividends in employee loyalty. My exorbitant salary will be redeemed within months. And agency brass will be kicking themselves wondering why they hadn't contacted me earlier, before their A-list Norwegian rockstar creatives packed their bags and herring mason jars and went back to Oslo.

And if all doesn't go according to plan, I can always crank out some banner ads.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bye Garry. Bye Larry.

Yesterday we heard the unexpected and incredibly sad news of Garry Shandling's passing. I had planned to write about Garry next week, but while the memories are rushing around my head thought it better to just get my thoughts written down.

Two quick anecdotes about this talented man who brought us so much laughter.

Years ago, I was a bartender at a local night club in Santa Monica. Garry, still in the early stages of his career, would sometimes play there and open for the band, Billy & The Beaters. Not long after he had played the gig he was sitting at the back of an airplane, bound from Newark to Los Angeles.

In fact, he was sitting right next to me.

I introduced myself and we started exchanging small talk. I told him how I recognized him from the club and we chatted about our mutual interests. I might've made an important career connection on that flight, but it was not to be.

Before we even took off we both noticed this extremely attractive woman walking, almost in slow motion, down the aisle. She took a seat three rows up from us. When Garry noticed the aisle seat still vacated (this was a long time ago) he cleared his throat, turned to me and said...

"Watch this."

With that he got up. Introduced himself to the woman. Smiled. Looked back at me. Winked. And for the next 5 hours plied her with a winning combination of liquor and neurotic Jewish charm. He "landed" long before the plane did.

The more consequential anecdote happened a good 20 years later.

Rob Schwartz (CEO of the TBWA Chiat/Day NY) and I were spending every waking hour writing spec TV scripts. We knocked out a dozen of these, from SEINFELD to FRASIER to MARRIED WITH CHILDREN. Most were not very good, but through the sheer act of writing them, they were getting better.

One day Rob had a brilliant idea. I hate when other people have better ideas than mine.

"Let's write a spec script for the final episode of the Larry Sanders show. Larry's special guest will be Gary Shandling."

Holy shit, I thought. That is cool.

And though to this day I wish I had been the one who thought of it, I knew we had to write that script. I also knew it would be challenging. It was. But it was the challenging nature of it that made the script sing. It wasn't formulaic, like other sitcoms. And it allowed us to take numerous stinging potshots at the entertainment industry. And writers love to bite the hand that feeds them.

I've searched high and low in my garage but could not find the script.

Though I do remember one pivotal scene involving Larry and Garry standing next to each other in the Men's Room. With dicks in hand, both Larry and Garry, perhaps not surprisingly, get the worst case of Shy Bladder.

Neither can squeeze out a drop. Their stilted dialogue and cringeworthy silence, is interrupted by each man helplessly pulling on the flushing mechanism in order to get their business flowing.

Rob and I could hardly contain ourselves as we chortled and guffawed our way through the script.

And we weren't the only ones. Our worthless agent somehow got the work in the hands of Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, the Executives Producers who ran The Simpsons for many years. They loved the adventures of Larry & Garry and paid us good money to write an episode of their new show, Mission Hill.

Actually, it was shit money. And we were holed up in a room with stinky, dirty Harvard Lampoon writers who smelled of day old onion rings from Burger King. And the network notes, the reams of network notes, were stupid --Hollywood's equivalent of "make the logo bigger." 

Rob and I made a beeline for the exit door. In one short week, we learned the world of making television is absurd, surreal, witless and without any regard for artistic integrity.

In other words, everything Larry Sanders said it would be.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Saturday Night Specials with Carl & Leon

It has taken me a while but I have finally tracked down a piece of work from a long time ago.

You may view this posting as a vain attempt to relive the glory of the past, but I assure you, it's not. (OK, maybe a little)

In addition to the infamous Yellow billboards we did for ABC, we also cranked out close to a hundred TV commercials in 1998. Nobody saw them, simply because they were broadcast exclusively on ABC -- a network with quite possibly the shittiest shows ever put out over the airwaves.

For this particular assignment, the client asked us to "package" their three crappy crime shows running back-to-back-to-back on Saturday Nights.

We, meaning John Shirley, Cody Spinadel, Mikey Collado and I, put our heads together and came up with the notion of Carl & Leon, two career criminals who would host the Saturday Night Specials about felons, cops and our nation's crack judicial system.

From the comfort of their community viewing room in D Wing, perpetual inmates Carl and Leon would pimp the episodes and show up during interstitials to give us running commentary on the unfolding drama.

Something akin to Mystery Science Theater 3000.

That was the ambitious plan.

Despite the success of the Yellow branding campaign, ABC never bought in all the way. Nor did they take us up on the many suggestions we had for loosening the way a broadcast network goes about their business. Including our proposal to change the tagline every day. Run odd 6, 9 or 17 second commercials. And breaking the 4th wall with spontaneous on set interviews or golf cart tours around the lot. Or the commissary, which had many colorful nicknames and clever allusions to ptomaine.

Nevertheless, we did knock out a dozen of these Carl & Leon spots, which I won't bore you with.

This one is my favorite. If memory serves me correct, it started with a premise that young Mr. Collado wrote and then evolved through a process of improvisation -- which we were free to do because the client never showed up at any of our shoots. That's how good we had it.

Special thanks go out to Jeff Gorman, a Chiat/Day legend who directed the Carl & Leon spots and who was gracious enough to rummage through his 3/4 inch videotapes to fish these out of storage.

It costs me two meaty lunches to get my grubby hands on these spots, but in my mind, it was worth it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Matrimony in the Motherland

Two days ago, I detailed the vigorous defense of my Kim Jung Un collection of captioned photos and the ridiculous charge that I was somehow guilty of being a racist.

I'm stepping back in the pool, perhaps unwisely, with a politically incorrect review of odd Russian Wedding Photos.

I've never been accused of playing it safe or muzzled myself in situations that clearly called for muzzling, so why afters 44 years on this Earth would I stop now?

Besides, while 50% of my DNA originated in the cold, wet highlands of Scotland, the other 50% is derived from the muddy and bloody shtetls of Mother Russia, where my ancestors were regularly robbed of their lunch money and always picked last for the village soccer team.

I've poked fun of Russian dating sites before so it only seemed natural to follow those amorous adventures to their natural matrimonial conclusions.


This young groom may be losing his hair, but what he lacks in follicle growth will more than be made up for in some amorous romping around. I think it's clear to see Mrs. Chrome Dome-ski is going to rock his world. You know, after they leave the reception at the art museum. BTW, you curators at the Louvre, I'll bet you don't have a collection of paintings of angry elephants toting watermelons. I'll bet you wish you did.

Americans aren't the only ones with a misguided sense of patriotism and an odd jingoistic streak. "Let's get a picture of you two lovebirds in front of the Kremlin, our national treasure. Scoot over closer to the fence so we can also get the bride's father in the picture."

Marriage isn't always the blissful journey. It will have its ups and downs. Its good times and its bad times. Nothing will make that journey smoother, or even more bearable, than a good sense of humor. That, and a photo of the two of you with your hands on the ass of an oversized plastic cow. 

I thought I was getting good with the photoshop skills. I was starting to master the Lasso tool, the mask and even that blurring thing-a-majig. But clearly, I've got a long way to go. Note the opening in the sky and how the bride, nestled in the obscenely large hands of the groom, is blessed with the light of Jesus. Do Russians call him Jesus?

"Ok, Igor and Igar, smile for the camera. Come on, big smile."

"We are smiling."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Shoes Not To Fill

It's Tuesday morning where you are, but it's still Saturday morning -- when I write all four of my weekly blogs -- where I am.

And today, I'm quite adamant about playing with the time/space continuum, as it is March 19. My oldest daughter's birthday.

It's hard to believe that she is no longer a teenager and has all but notched two years under her belt at the University of Washington (Go Huskies, so at least I feel I'm getting my money's worth.)

It seems like just yesterday, my wife and I were staring at the curious puddle of amniotic fluid on the kitchen floor and rushing off to St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica.

I'll never forget the searing pain of our first childbirth.

Labor dragged on for close to 38 hours. And I was forced to sleep in a cheap Ikea chair with poor padding and wooden armrests. While my wife, hooked up to a soothing epidural, enjoyed round-the-clock care and a team of obstetric nurses who catered to her every whim.

"Strawberries? No problem. Would you like a bowl or a cup?"

I still get shivers when I think of the scarring discomfort I endured on that March 19th evening so many years ago.

As you might imagine, I had thousands of photos to choose from to lead off today's post. I selected the one above for obvious reasons. It captures my daughter's radiant smile. And you can almost hear her laughing. Not unlike all proud fathers, I am a sucker for her contagious laughter and sometimes wonder if she is using it as a tool to manipulate me.

You need a new iPhone?

You need a new computer?

You need some money for a weekend trip to Vancouver?

And check.

Fortunately, as some of you know firsthand, I am a man of modest needs. I do my own manscaping. Though of considerable girth, I eat like a bird. And as my 10 year old dungarees will attest, I am no slave to fashion. In fact, the beat-up Havana Joe's Leather Chukka boots you see on my daughter's feet could be the most expensive item in my wardrobe.

And on that point, as long as my daughter does NOT follow in her father's footsteps and end up in advertising, she can have anything she damn well pleases.

I know you won't be reading this Rachel, but Happy Birthday.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Some of my best restaurants are Chinese

Last week I received an email from out of the ether.

Keep in mind that because I self publish on a regular basis and I amuse myself (and hopefully others) with captioned photos of Kim Jung Un, the plump prince of the DPRK, hearing from strangers on the great wide world interwebs is not all that unusual.

99.9% of these surprise emails are of the complimentary nature.

But, this one email caught me off guard. It came from an Asian Filmmaker in NYC who was so offended by my regular ribbing of Kim Jung Un, he felt the need to tell me. AND, more importantly, to publish his indignation quite publicly on for all the world to see.

Dear Rich Siegel: I understand that a fat Asian despot with a bowl haircut makes an easy target but you've been making jokes about Kim Jong Un on a weekly basis for as long as I've come in contact with your Linkedin posts for about two years now. I find them unoriginal, lazy, not particularly funny, often racially tinged, and offensive. This is one of the reasons why I've removed you as one of my connections. I don't believe such jokes have a place on social media in this day and age. Before removing myself from exposure to any more of your posts, I thought it important to voice my opinion.

I responded in a way that acknowledged his complaint but also attempted to defuse the situation in a humorous way.

Me: Geez, if we can't make fun of self-important, overeating, repressive boy-kings who starve their countrymen and slaughter political opponents, who can we make fun of? I'm sorry you find the work, "unoriginal, lazy, not particularly funny, often racially tinged and offensive." In retrospect, some could have even funnier. But you're wrong. You're dead wrong. I have not been posting these captioned photos for 2 years. It's actually been 3.

But he would have none of that, insisting that I was guilty of being a racist and repeating as well as amplifying stereotypes. 

Him: Rich, your jokes are not about criticizing Kim Jong Un and North Korea's horrific treatment of its people. They are about eating raccoon meat and micro-penises. I'm sorry that you can't see that you're simply propagating offensive racial stereotypes.

Knowing I had not done any of that and had made a conscious effort to steer clear of even the remote possibility of coming off as racially insensitive, I replied:

Me: You keep leveling these charges of racially tinged humor, but I defy you to find one among the 300 plus photos. I may be guilty of overplaying the fat jokes, but as an overweight guy I'm calling executive privilege on that. It's light political humor. If you don't like it, ignore it. Or better yet, since you're in the creative field, grow a thicker skin.

Again, he pushed on.

Him: Rich, I've already made references to racially offensive words used above and I'm not going to repeat them. And it's not just the words you use but the juxtaposition of images and words that result in a racial caricaturization of of Kim, not as a tyrant, but as an Asian.

At this point, my long dormant desire to be a lawyer kicked in and I brought out the light tactical passive/aggressive armaments.

Me: Allow me to be specific and repeat the phrases you quoted. Raccoons are not indigenous to the Korean Peninsula, hence the reference could not possibly reinforce any stereotype and was simply used to point out the scarcity of food in North Korea. Micro-penis was in reference to Hitler and his recently revealed deformity. It was not some veiled insult about Asians. If you took offense to this, perhaps you are projecting your own personal matters, in which case you have my greatest sympathy.

He now realizes he has opened up a can of rhetorical whup ass.

Him: I see we have devolved to personal attacks and Trumpisms. If you don't see it, then you don't see it. Good luck to you.

Trumpisms? Really?

Me: There was no devolving. You started the correspondence by calling me a racist. Lazy. And worse yet, unfunny. I asked for proof, you provided none. Moreover, I never made any personal attacks. I empathetically raised the possibility that you had been shortchanged in the manhood department. I hope that is not the case. If however you wish to cease the banter and witty repartee, I will gladly accept your concession. Otherwise, I'll put on a fresh pot of coffee and we can go keyboard-to-keyboard.

And this is where it ended. Sadly. He stopped the correspondence and blocked me from the thread. In essence, picking up his toys and going home. Just as I was getting warmed up.

I don't take the charge of being a called racist lightly. In the three years that I've been posting the Kim Jung Un photos, I have not heard from one of my many Asians friends (sorry for that tired trope) about stepping over a line.  

If you know me at all, and clearly this filmmaker from NYC does not, you've seen me use this platform to regularly champion better treatment for labor, equal rights for gay people and justice for African Americans. You know, when I'm not making fun of Jews. But I get a pass on that as well.

So, this anonymous filmmaker from New York got offended. Big deal. 

Know what I find offensive? Political correctness. The tendency to take life too seriously. And the notion that I should refrain from poking fun at a two-bit, fatty-fat, tinpot dictator simply because he is of a different ethnicity. 

He's offended. I'm offended.

I guess we're even.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Our Better Halves

I've mentioned this before but I am surrounded by women. My wife has three sisters. I have two daughters. And even my dog lacks a scrotal sac. I am officially the Mayor of Estrogenville.

Which is why it brought me great joy to see the seeds of change taking place around the world. Even in the cloistered Boy's Club we know as ad agencies.

There was a major bombshell dropped at one of my former employers, JWT, where the chief communications officer laid down some serious charges at the current chief executive officer. If these allegations prove to be true, the house that J. Walter built will be in need of some major remodelling.

Another former employer, TBWA Chiat/Day released a long form video documenting many of the obstacles women face in the workplace. They even held a well-attended conference in South Africa to shine a glaring light on the issues.

And there isn't a day that goes by that I don't witness the 3% 'ers and their ongoing efforts to recruit women into the field and smooth the way to top leadership positions.

Encouraging, right?

It is, except when you stop and consider how far we have to go.

In late night edit sessions or pauses between deadly focus groups or even wedged in the middle seats of Coach flights to Boise, I've heard the whispers, the rumors and the disgusting rumblings my female colleagues have had to endure.

None starker than the tale told to me about a dozen years ago, by a whip-smart account manager (and you know I don't throw that term around lightly) who recounted a late night big brass meeting with the client.

She and a feckless, high ranking agency executive (who shall remain nameless because anonymity is important) stumbled into a stately conference room populated with nothing but jowly white guys. At which point, perhaps still under the influence of a lunchtime cocktail -- or five -- this incredibly-compensated captain of industry leaned over to her and said...

"You know, if this were any other setting, you'd be expected to get up on the table and take your clothes off."

A broken moral compass? No, that's what passes for leadership and integrity these days.

Like I said, we have a long way to go.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Remember rhythm?

I miss football.

One of the things I enjoy most about NFL football is watching the coach make adjustments. A hard charging defense can be countered with a screen or a draw. Or a team can opt to spread the field. Go up tempo.

It's all designed to get the offense in a rhythm. Because only when the offense is in rhythm, can the team advance the ball, move down the field and put points up on the scoreboard. It's about flow. And timing. And having the patience to get in a groove.

This is not cold fusion science. It's easily understood, by a four year old or even a 300 lbs. no-neck offensive lineman from Iowa with a bachelor's degree in Bench Press.

It is however an enigma to the folks calling the shots at ad agencies. Who have all but robbed a creative team's hope of gathering any rhythm. Those of you who wield a pen or a wacom board know exactly where I'm going with this.

A brief is handed to off to a gaggle of copywriters and art directors. No sooner do the creatives drag their asses from the conference room, grab a cup of coffee and return to their assigned 4 square feet at the SuperDesk™, does an electronic meeting notice arrive.

The Junior Creative Director would like to check in with the teams, 23 hours from now.

23 Hours!

The ink on the fuzzy-thinking brief is barely dry.

Fast forward to the next day, when the 'work' is shown. Killed. And followed up by...

"I don't know guys, I'm not seeing any Cannes Gold here."-- Junior Creative Director

An hour later, there's an email from the client (an assistant at that) who has decided to take some initiative. Monday's brief about automotive luxury -- the one that took 6 weeks to prepare-- has magically morphed into Tuesday's brief about performance. This is quickly complemented with another meeting notification about another check in, 22 hours from now.

As expected, Cannes Gold is conspicuously absent. As are any hopes of establishing a rhythm. Because The CMO has changed his vacation plans to Aruba and is now leaving a week earlier than previously scheduled.

The vice is tightened, again and again.

The hastily-prepared performance "strategy" has been changed to fuel efficiency.

And luxury.

And more performance.

The client isn't sure about TV and thinks social media is the way to go.

"Here's $80,000. Make sure it goes viral."

And tomorrow's check in has been re-scheduled for 8 PM.


Maybe what I miss most about NFL football is the opportunity to level someone with a stiff, bony forearm to the soft, unprotected section of the throat.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Can't Top The Copper Top

OK, not the best picture of my wife and I.

Not surprising since the guy I asked to snap the photo was in the middle of devouring a Signature Copper Top Tri Tip DeluXXXe, the finest, juiciest, BBQ-iest tri-tip sandwich found north of Lago Salinas Grandes deep in the heart of Argentina.

"Yeah sure buddy, I'll put down this orgasmic experience just to produce a cheap memory of you and your spouse standing in front of a hyperbolic roadway restaurant sign. Good thing we waited til the end of the day when the light is WRONG. No. Really. You're welcome."

At least I have one memento from last week's midlife, midweek, Mammoth getaway.

As you might have guessed with the stunning regularity of R17 posts, I am a terrible creature of habit. And my rigid sense of discipline often gets the best of me, leaving me unable to break a routine or take on any sense of spontaneity.

I'm working to change that.

And so, much to the delight of my wife, I shockingly booked a 1 bedroom condo in the heart of Mammoth Village. This is notable on two counts. First, the aforementioned taking of the initiative. Secondly, perhaps even more shocking, I sprung for convenience and "luxury" of a larger-than-usual suite in a more expensive-than-usual accommodation less than 100 yards from the Gondola lift.

Because I'm 44 years old damnit.

And because I have to eat many, many big bowls of smelly stupid corporate marketing bullshit to make a living, so I deserve a break once in a while.

I'm happy to report the vacation gods came through. Finally.

After last summer's seaweed beach fiasco in Tulum, I thought I'd never get a break. But two days prior to our road trip up Route 395, the mountain received more than 5 feet of new snow. Upon our arrival in Mammoth Lakes, still my favorite ski resort because it is noticeably absent all the nouveau riche ski resort pretentious posing, the precipitation ended.

In fact, we were treated to a rare consecutive streak of 3 picture-perfect Bluebird days.

I know you must be thinking, how does a fat, old 44 year old Jew even manage to get up on skis?

(keep your eye on the right and ignore the self-criticism at the end.)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pinch Me.

Last week I had one of those mystical media moments.

You know the ones. You read a headline on an article. You're sucked in by its intriguing content. You comb through the entire piece, thinking "this is too good to be true'. So you check the identity of the publisher. See that's it's a satirical site. Slam your fist on the desk and realize, "yes, I've been fooled again, a victim of my own gullibility and the Internet's surprising ability to make even the most amateurish journalism appear legit."

That almost happened to me.
But then, it didn't.

Weiden & Kennedy in London shocked the agency world when they announced their efforts to give their employees a better work/life balance. This of course is a misnomer because if you work a staff job in advertising, the balance is more accurately described by work/self-loathing.

Nevertheless, they revealed their plan to ban meetings before 10 AM as well as after 4:00 PM. They've also instructed workers to stop reading emails past 7 PM.

As you know, I'm a card-carrying member of the United Jeopardy Watchers, Local #537. And have long advocated the reinstatement of normal business hours.

I'm a firm believer that you will not get any good ideas out of me past 5PM. And keeping me late tonight only reduces my alleged 'productivity' for tomorrow.

In fact, I believe I've broached this topic many times in the past, including Blog Posts: # 391, #407, # 482, # 631, # 741, #883, #1146, #1290, #1291, #1292, #1293, #1347, and # 1474.

The narcissist in me wants to believe that yes. Finally. People are listening to this old goat.

I've stood on this homemade soapbox and railed against the abuses dished out daily by a merciless world and now my whiny, grumpy voice is being heard. If all goes according to plan, it won't be long before we see the end of the Open Office Plan. Or the endless battalions of Planners. Planners. And more Planners.

As Jimmy McGill of Better Call Saul would say, "The headline here is: 44-Year Old Curmudgeon Sparks the Return of Common Sense."

The realist in me must always smack the narcissist upside the head, reminding him that if anyone were actually listening, Round Seventeen might actually turn a dime and earn enough money for at least a scone and latte at a local Starbucks. But it hasn't.

What's happening, and I like to believe this is widespread, is that ad agencies have unexpectedly unearthed the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Here are a few axioms of the LDR:

The more overtime your employees put in, 
the less the quality of their output.

The more people involved in a decision, 
the less the likelihood of making a good one.

The more weekends you steal from your people, 
the less the probability you have of seeing those same people at the year end Christmas Party.

I hope the pendulum is swinging the other way. In the direction of agencies treating their employees more humanely. By being more efficient. By learning to say "No" to abusive clients. And by respecting the boundaries between work and life.

Particularly since, despite my best attempts to dissuade her, my daughter has recently expressed an interest in the advertising agency world.


I might just take her away her car keys. Or compel her to read this blog from top to bottom.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Yucky Fingers

A few days ago I was tagged on Facebook for one of those meme's that is currently floating around.

I was asked to list a dozen albums that had a lasting impact on my life and served as a musical and inspirational NorthStar for the remaining days I had on Earth.

I untagged myself.

First of all, I don't know what purpose it would serve to compile a list that could easily be the list of 20 million or so other 44 year olds who grew up on Rock and Roll. There'd be Led Zepellin, Bruce Spingsteen, Neil Young, Carlos Santana, The Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Sonny Boy Williamson and blah, blah, blah.

More to the point, rock and roll music never 'cut to the quick of my soul' or 'fueled a passion that seared my intestines with a joy that took flight'.

I don't know about you, but I was stoned or drunk through my formative years. Music was played in the background, while we did bong hits and laughed our asses off. I can recite some of the lyrics, with some musical accompaniment, but to this day, I don't have a clue what any of that mostly pretentious drivel means.

Jon Anderson has a great lilting voice, but I challenge anyone to decipher a Yes album.

That is not say there weren't albums that had a huge impact on my life. There were. I hung on every word. Studied the pacing and flow of the phrasing. And picked up on the artistic rhythms. But the albums that stayed with me were of the spoken variety.

And I think when you see the list you'll understand why:

Robert Klein -- Child of the 50's

The 2000 Year Old Man -- Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner

Another Monty Python Record -- Monty Python's Flying Circus

That's Not Funny That's Sick -- National Lampoon

No Respect -- Rodney Dangerfield

Class Clown -- George Carlin

Live on Sunset Strip -- Richard Pryor

Occupation Foole -- George Carlin

Mind Over Matter -- Robert Klein

Wild and Crazy Guy -- Steve Martin

An Evening with Groucho -- Groucho Marx

Normal -- Martin Mull

I know I repeated some of the artists, but Robert Klein and George Carlin had such a keen eye for language and observing the human condition, they deserved special mention.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Hello 1928

I probably shouldn't do this, because the moment someone discovers something cool or interesting in LA and then opens their mouth about it, crowds of hipster douchebags descend like a swarm of man-bun-sporting cicadas after a 17 year latte-free hibernation.

Not that the under 30 crowd is reading this blog.
Or paying any attention to these 1500 posts of well-hewn grouchy wisdom.

A few weeks ago, my older friend Paul -- who just turned 50 -- called us up on Saturday night inquiring about our plans. Deb and I were thinking of doing some BMX'ing or slipping into our leather onesies and cruising around Hollywood Blvd. for some hot mid-life swinger action.

Paul had something more sedate in mind.

"Let's mosey on over the El Segundo Old Town Music Hall. They're showing Charlie Chaplin's City Lights and there's a sing-a-long on an old timey pipe organ before the show. It's the bee's knees."

He added that we could grab a bite to eat across the street at the Richmond Restaurant. I asked if they'd be willing to puree my food. And Paul said, "Not if you ask in that tone of voice, mister."

By now I think you can surmise how the evening transpired.

What might surprise you is how much fun we had.

There was big-ass, homemade food at the Richmond, which is actually a bar & grill.

We walked in, grabbed a table without waiting, and enjoyed personal attention from our server/waitress/bartender/fan of the Music Hall. Each of our entrees was less than 8 bucks and we didn't have to suffer through some bullshit pre-amble about artisanally-grown basil or triple brewed IPAs. And they had onion rings.

That's two automatic stars in my Yelp review.

Afterwards, we walked across the street and gawked at the surroundings. When the pipe organ kicked in and the alcohol had produced its lubricating effect, we found ourselves singing along with the crowd to the rhythms of Red River Valley.

This was followed by the charms of Charlie Chaplin. The silent movie was 91 minutes long but it only felt like 191 minutes.

A fun night was had by all. And we plan on going back in the time machine and doing it again.

I hope I won't see you there.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Come on get happy

Lately, I've been seeing a string of comments on social media as well as a rash of fully blown articles regarding the current state of happiness in the advertising business.

I'm sure you've seen them as well.

In essence, they argue that since we do not toil in the fields, or manufacture flanges, or change diapers on incontinent seniors, or drive 18 wheelers across the fiery hot plains of Kansas, we should all thank our lucky stars and kiss the brief-making gods who have deigned us worthy of creating banner ads and highly skippable Youtube prerolls.

After all, we, the blessed, get to roll into work in our cargo shorts and flip flops.

We can stop what we're doing and play ping pong or foosball on the company-provided amusement machines.

We can eat swag bagels and bialys left on the kitchen counter by overly cheerful media reps hawking their flimsy, unverifiable wares.

Did you know there are starving children in China who don't get swag bialys?

We are in the creative business.
And damnit we ought to stop our bitching and griping.

I have no reason, other than my close-to 1500 blogs posts, to believe these Polly Pollyanna's are directing their vilification at me, but I do. So let me offer a counter-counter perspective on the matter.

First, as a matter of credentials, in my 44 years on this earth I've worked some monumentally shitty jobs.

I delivered newspapers through the sleet, snow and humidity of upstate New York. I've been a landscaper. A fry cook. An Accounts Payable clerk. A forklift driver. One summer, I worked in the kitchen of a hospital and using nothing but my hands, a year's worth of Brillo Pads, and scalding hot water, scrubbed shoulder-high pots clean. I've been a bartender, a waiter and a mailroom clerk. And when I was moonlighting, did ALL three simultaneously.

As such, I have every right to moan about the sad state of affairs in what should be our gleeful adventures in the Creative Field.

And therein lies the fault of so many of these happiness peddlers -- the supposition that we still work in a Creative Industry.

This puts the straw in the straw man argument.

I don't know if you've been inside an advertising agency lately, I have. In the past 12 years I've stepped inside close to a hundred. And I'll tell you without hesitation, there is little Joy in Mudville.

With rare exception, we're not Creatives anymore.
We're box-checkers.
We're imaginative strategy regurgitaters.
We're planner pleasers.
We're manifesto makers.
We're 24-hour brand turnaraound specialists.
We're the crafters of Frivolous Fuckwadian Digital Knick Knacks™.
We work at the behest of marketing careerists who leverage whatever talent we might possess to further their ascension up the corporate ladder.

Know what would make me happy, Polly?

The return of Creativity to the Creative Department.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Let's Go Panelling

Can you feel it?

I know I can.

And I know my friends down in Austin, eating their artisanal corn beef hash and drinking their cold-filtered, kale-infused, Peruvian-roasted mocha lattes can, too.

It's SXSW time again.

This year promises to be bigger and better than ever. Even the Obamas are showing up, which will surely clog South Congress Ave. and give the residents something to buzz about other than the new shipment of alligator boots over at Allen's House of Fine Cowboy Wear.

Even as we speak, panels are being coalesced and presenters are nervously going over their material hoping to wow the young, ear-gauge-sporting adverati who have not yet been beaten into submission or yielded to the mistresses of cynicism and bitterness.

Fortunately, as in years past, I have obtained a sneak preview of what's to come at SXSW, which I'm more than happy to share with you, the faithful 11 readers of this devolving blog:

March 14, 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM -- FourSquare Introduces K9Square, a new killer app that allows users to check in and tell the world where their dog is at. SXSW attendeees will have the opportunity to witness this incredible new innovation, which FourSquare CEO Don Winkhood promises will be the first in its ever-expanding suite of digital knick knacks.

March 15, 2:00 PM-3:00 PM -- The efficiency folks from Sigma Six have returned with an encore presentation of: How to Reinvent Customized Systems with Scalable Supply Chains. followed by Scaling Your Supply Chain to Meet the Needs of your Reinvented Customized System. 

March 18, 10:00 AM -- 10:00 PM -- Increasing Corporate Nimbleosity™. This mammoth 12 hour panel will redefine the operations nimbleability™ at your ad agency. A holistic approach that demonstrates how all the constituents at your shop can not only have their voices heard, but play a meaningful and effective role in the delivery of your advertising vehicles. The panel will be followed by a question and answer period where remaining guests will talk in circles until 3:00 AM or until the housekeeping staff at the Ramada Inn arrives to clean the William Taft Conference Room.

March 19, Noon- 2:00 PM. The SXSW Build Your Own Burrito Bar. It's back and it's bigger than ever. Designed by renowned architect Clive Wilkerson of SuperDesk fame, the Burrito Bar is one long 75 foot continuous table that spans the width of 6th Ave. It can accommodate hundreds of hungry ad professionals, whether they be creatives, account managers, UX designers, Planning Directors, regular planners, junior planners, planning strategists or associate assistant planners. Because let's face it, when it come to burritos there can never be too many cooks in the kitchen.

March 23, 5:00 PM -- Closing convocation given by this year's special guest, Bob Hoffman -- the Ad Contrarian. Attendee who correctly guesses how many time Bob says "Fuck", "Asshole" or "Digital Douchebag", will take home a brand new Buick Enclave.

That's right, a Buick.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mea Gulpa

I don't usually put up a R17 post on Sunday.

But while watching a replay of yesterday's Duke/North Carolina game, I saw a commercial for Red Lobster. A commercial that violated my sensibilities. And in no uncertain terms, let me know I was wrong.

I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong. In fact, unlike politicians or even other colleagues in the ad biz, I embrace the opportunity to set the record straight.

And so I found myself at the keyboard. Going back in time to 2010, when I was quoted in AgencySpy.

In the piece, I freely speculated what Red Lobster's new agency might find themselves doing. I predicted the new commercials would feature happy, white people in khaki pants and JC Penney era casual wear, biting and smiling their way through a buttery feast of boiled bottom-feeders.

I suggested there would be plastic smiles.

Plastic bibs.

And plastic laughter all around.

The kind of commercial that deftly strikes the right balance of appetizing food shots and product engaged consumers to "ladder up" to a meaningful, robust brand position.

Boy was I wrong.

The new spot does none of that. It's simply wall-to-wall-to-wall food porn.

I've been humbled once again. And now I must eat crustacean.

Advertising, I hardly know thee.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Anyone But Drumpf

What started out as a funny gag on The Daily Show six months ago is now turning into America's worst nightmare -- the legitimate candidacy of one Donald J Drumpf.

And with this week's Super Tuesday sweeps, the momentum doesn't seem to be stopping anytime.

I'm 44 years old and have seen a slew of terrible presidential candidates. And I understand the aversion to Hillary Clinton or even that radical Jew from, Burlington with all his un-Christian like beliefs like feeding poor people, taking care of the sick and being kinder and gentler to our neighbors. Blasphemy!

But I have never seen a candidate as rude, as coarse, as uneducated and as unqualified to rule the free world than this merkin-donning, populist-pandering, deal-pimping gasbag who thinks he can ascend to the Presidency by promising to throw in the floor mats and undercoat sealing.

He is certifiably dangerous in a way you'd think Rance Priebus and the power brokers at the GOP would recognize.

I'm not clear on all the mechanics of delegates, super-delegates and brokered conventions. But I can suggest other viable contenders that would be more preferable than this classless gold-dusted Fascist.

Remember Captain Joe Hazelwood? He has proven leadership abilities even though he got really shitfaced one night and ran the Exxon Valdez into a sandbar, spilling millions of gallons of unrefined crude oil into the Alaskan sea.

"Give me 90 degrees hard to Starboard side. No, make that Port. Mmmmm, Port."

How about Rev. Peter Popoff? This bible-thumping charlatan has a way with people. He's been ripping them off, soliciting their donations and rewarding their good will with small vials of Jesus water.

Americans love a candidate with military experience. What about General Buck Turgidson? When asked about his plans for a pre-emptive strike on Russia, he replied, "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops. Depending on the breaks."

And finally, there's Iris Castillo. A Florida (no surprise there) man who was recently arrested for the third time for having sex with a horse. But Americans love a candidate with a sense of determination an innate sense of animal husbandry.

Come on people, Anyone but Drumpf!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Getting in the Ring

God is not done talking.

Last week, you might have read the ramblings from Rafael Bienvenido Cruz (Ted's daddy) who claims God sent a sign to Heidi, Mrs. Cruz. I don't know why our Lord, Host of Hosts, could not speak directly to Ted, perhaps Cruz was unreachable while forcibly kissing reluctant babies on the campaign stump.

Rafael claims God whispered, "Seek God's face, not God's hand."

This led Ted to believe that the Almighty was calling him to the White House.

"Lord, here I am, use me. I surrender to you, whatever you want." -- replied a genuflecting Theodore.

A phrase commonly used by submissive men in the company of $300 dominatrix escorts found on the backpages of Backpage.

Or so, I'm told.

But as I mentioned earlier, God was not done. After his chat with Mrs. Cruz, and after he told a gun-toting Uber driver in Michigan to mow down a half a dozen random folks in Kalamazoo, and after he instructed some skinny Somalians to strap on suicide vests and decimate a hotel in Africa, he tapped me on the shoulder.

GOD: Rich, I want you to run for President.

ME: God, I think you have the wrong narcissist.

GOD: I'm infallible, damnit. 

ME: But I'm an ad guy.

GOD: If you can figure out an ad brief, you can go to DC and straighten this mess out.

ME: I'm terrible at office politics. Have you seen all the knife wounds in my back?

GOD: Rich, don't know if you noticed, but this is the year of the non-politician.

ME: I'm not smart enough.

GOD: Hello. Donald Trump doesn't even know about the Nuclear Triad.

ME: I can think of a thousand reasons why I'm not fit for the office.

GOD: Only a thousand? Have you been watching any of the debates?

ME: Well, it would be nice to take care of some of the shit that's been bothering me. Like Graffiti.

GOD: Give them the Death Penalty.

ME: People who text while driving.

GOD: More Death Penalty.

ME: People who wash their cars during a drought.

GOD: Did I mention the Death Penalty?

ME: This is starting to sound good. But I'm having a really good year as a freelancer. If I became President of the United States, I'd have to take a serious pay cut.

GOD: I can't help you there. Good luck getting more money from a Republican Senate.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

It's Official

I've seen more sunrises in the past month than I have in my entire lifetime.

I don't know how it happened, nor am I happy it did, but I've become an early riser.

There was a time when I'd be beckoned from my slumber by the insistent call of a nocturnal bladder. I'd get up, stumble to the bathroom, do my business, leave the seat up, go back to bed and within 30 seconds I'd return to deep REM sleep and dreamy visions of Kate Upton and Charlotte McKinney, hot oil wrestling for my attention and the opportunity to stick their tongue in my now-hairy ears.

Those days are gone.

Now I find myself lying in bed, hyper-oxygenating and working feverishly to turn my brain off. Hoping beyond hope that the digital clock now flashing a 4 or 5 will magically become a 7 or an 8.

But, like my wish that common sense would return to the corporate boardroom, it's just not happening.

And so I find myself, as my wife often finds me, back at the computer. Working. And writing. If I may borrow a line from an old US Army commercial, "I've written more by 9 AM than most millineal copyfolks write in a month." 

By the time I get to the office, I've already downed a pot of coffee and have to switch over to decaf lest I find myself volunteering to help the IT guy rewire the HTML UNIX-Based server confibulators.

Apart from my wife's objections, who used to enjoy the quiet hours of the morning all to herself, getting up early is not the worst thing in the world. Though not apparent from this piece, I feel the writing I do in the morning is better than the writing I do later in the day.

My head is clear. The synapses fire cleaner and more efficiently. And I'm not trying to sort through the endless string of comments, notes and critiques of people who don't write but love to pull on the puppet strings of those who do.

The professional vernacular for this is "feedback." Which, if you were to break down in etymological terms, is suspiciously close to vomit.

This is all good news for agencies or clients that hire me, because I'm now working more time on your behalf than ever before. If I start work at 5 AM and leave the office at 6 PM, minus the time for my afternoon swim, I've already put in a good dozen hours. So I'm not really interested in taking any guff from folks who wear their all-nighter adventures like some stupid badge of honor.

"Banker's hours, Rich?"

"No, doughnut-makers hours wise guy. Good night."