Monday, September 1, 2014

We return to the Cape.

We decided about three weeks ago, or maybe it was two, to spend Labor Day on Cape Cod. When you have a grown family--especially, a modern, atomized family, the occasions when everyone can get together are few. Work makes demands, or boy friends, or maybe just a generalized obstreperousness that puts spending time with your parents as some ring or another of hell.

This Labor Day, however, both daughters were up for it, as was my brother-in-law and my niece and a friend of my older daughter's, also a PhD. student in clinical psych.

My wife found a house, a big sprawling place with a substantial pool, as well as a pool house, in Yarmouth Port, around the middle of the Cape. The kids are slowly waking, heating bagels, drinking coffee and rubbing the sleep from their eyes.

Meanwhile, my wife and I were up again around 6:15, attending to the aquanautical needs of Whiskey, who needs to swim to maintain her golden retriever's equipoise. We found a place for her in Orleans, Mass, about half-an-hour away, a bay ringed by tall sea-grass which allowed her to swim and romp and intermittently roll around on sand and pine-needles. She fetched and fetched and and fetched some more, and kibbitzed with various Cape Cod canines who came by to canoodle.

As someone who's spent the last 39 years of my life living in New York City, sometimes in apartments with barely enough space to turn around, there's something magical about the Cape. The main highway which travels the spine of the Cape is around here, only one lane in each direction.

Somehow, against all the pernicious efforts of runaway modernity, this has kept the strip of Cape land free from many of the big box stores that do so much to despoil our landscapes and our lives. Every other bend in the road reveals a scene which might lead a Wyeth or two to set up easel.

Of course, I am here when the season is "high" and the daughters are near. But, and I feel weird saying this, it may be the first place and the first time in my life which impels me to run numbers in my head to figure out if I could "make retirement work here."

To scratch all we can out of this respite, we'll be piling into the Simca at 6AM tomorrow morning, which should put me in work around 11, or maybe lunch time, depending on how dreadful traffic is.
It will be a return from a place I will return to.



Friday, August 29, 2014

Data? I hardly know her.

The other night while listening to a financial news program on National Public Radio, I heard some blithering CEO of an online clothing company for women talk about the virtues of the data her company had access to. The CEO blithered on we'll be able to out Nordtsrom Nordstrom's. We'll be able to make precise suggestions. We'll be able to uniquely dress women exactly how they want to be dressed.

As usual she, sorry I'm using the word for a third time, as usual she blithered on about the power data has given her.

As usual, I almost threw up in the sink.

Here's the deal, and it's simple as this.

Everybody talks about "Big Data."

I've yet to hear anyone talk about "Smart Data."

I get about 200 emails a day for the following: The Genie Magic Zip Bra, Burial Insurance, Garage Coatings, Nitroxin (get back my youth) and Vydox (be harder than ever.)

In fact, even from Amazon, whose data capabilities I have a modicum of respect for, is a screw up. Because my daughters and my wife use my account, Amazon's recommendations to me are really recommendations to them. Their data, big as it is, is blind. And dumb. And not nearly as good as the young aspiring novelists who work in a bookstore near me, one of the last remaining independents.

What's more, I find data really creepy. I don't want companies to know that much about me. Maybe I'm too misanthropic for big data, but when they get things right--like suggesting hotels in LA because I've booked a flight there, or when they've obviously trolled my inbox and found something pertinent they can use, well, frankly, I get creeped out. Leave me alone, willya.

I'm not sure it's occurred to anyone that Big Data Blitherers and the investment community that plays along with them bidding up their "worth" to the billions, are really the alchemists, the pseudo-scientists of the 21st Century.

They claim to be able to turn base ones and zeroes into gold.

I think it's bullshit.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

For sale.

A friend of mine just sent me an article from "The Denver Post" about Bud Light's upcoming effort to takeover the town of Crested Butte, Colorado and make it one big spectacular for the brand. Bud Light intends to paint the town blue, open pop-up bars and host a huge "Twister" game. Of course there will be a huge soundstage and enough bands to put the grandest Bar Mitzvah to shame.

You can read about the MSEOTH (major special event on the horizon) here.

I have this strange, and perhaps outdated notion that oppressive advertising ubiquity actually hurts brands. When I witness logos everywhere and hear brand bombast blaring at me, I wind up hating the sponsors, not liking them.

I don't cotton to this crap. Brands have always had one hand down our pants, now they're adding a second and, somehow, a third.

The idea that I have to shell out, to see an opera for instance, $100 for the tickets and still have to bear ads everywhere offends me. The same holds true when I see a ballgame, or go to the movies, or, shit, ride the subway. I'm paying $2.50 to ride the train. Do you really have to abuse me further by barraging me with your crap?

Logos on lampposts, on tennis nets, a bank's name or a telco's on a tax-payer-funded stadium fairly makes my blood boil. Not only do I regard the sponsors as blood-suckers, encroaching on my personal space, such advertising also says to me two things. 1) The sponsor has more money than sense, and 2) They're making extortionate profits.

Crested Butte claims it's getting $250,000 from Bud Light. And surely, they can use it.

But really.

Does everything have to be for sale?
--
By the way, I feel similarly about advertising on my phone. This is my personal device. I keep it in a pocket near my crotch or hold it up to my head. Keep your filthy paws off of me.

That is, unless you give me something of real value. Money. Information. Entertainment. Otherwise, I won't only ignore you. I'll hate you.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Another observation on freelance.

One of the weirdly wonderful things about one of the places I'm putting some freelance hours into is how wonderfully archaic it is.

I don't mean they speak in Shakespearean English or that they don't understand the internet, but they are, in at least one regard, warm and old-fashioned.

Here's what I mean.

There's a lovely woman who comes in a few days a week to handle people like me. To make sure, among other things, that people like myself get paid in a timely manner.

No small feat in these impecunious times.

Today, she handed me two checks.

Always nice.

Then she did something even nicer.

She thanked me.

Thank you for the work you've done.

I think as the world has gotten corporatized and bureaucratized and technocraticized, we've come to forget our manners.

We've forgotten to say please.

We've forgotten to say thank you.

We've forgotten that perhaps work needs more of a quid pro quo than just "direct deposit."

Sometimes a handshake, a non-threatening pat on the back, and a "thank you" mean more than you can imagine.

No. Thank you.

Pressures.


When I’m really busy as I am right now, every hour, whether I’m awake or asleep, is time to work.

This is something the terrorists of timesheets will never understand.

You work on your way to the urinal, rewriting dialogue, framing an argument. You work on the bus coming home and going to, jerry-rigging a set up so I can get online while in-transit. I work, of course who doesn’t, in the shower. Perhaps most consuming, I work while I sleep. I find, at times like these, your brain percolates pretty well when it’s resting. Somehow the junk, the anxieties and the bullshit disappear and I’m can turn things over and over and maybe find something fresh.

It’s good feeling pressure despite what some stone-stacking new agers think. When humans first jumped down from trees many hundreds of thousands of years ago (or about six thousand if you’re a Republican) pressure was part and parcel of our lives. We dealt with the pressure of battles, the pressure of finding food, the pressure of landing a partner. Pressure, handling it, is what we do.

I cope with it by working hard.

By trying something new.

By concentrating, concentrating, concentrating until something reveals itself.

Sometimes, naturally, the pressure can get to you. You could plotz running for the bus. Or you could kick your cat. Or yell at your loved ones. Or drink. Or overeat. Or all of those things.

My two cents says you’re better hunkering down.

And working.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

War.

When I was a kid, Vietnam was our next-door neighbor.

Nearly every night my mother would listen to WQXR, "the radio station of 'The New York Times,'" to hear how her stocks had done. Along with that litany of statistics came the numbers of Viet Cong killed. The number of South Vietnamese killed. And, last, the number of Americans killed.

I was with my baseball coach at summer camp (I was 11) when he got a letter that his best friend had been killed in action. Six years later, a guy on my team, Andre, came home heroined and drugged. Six years after that, I saw him homeless and strung out, crazy on a New York City subway platform.

Taking a page out of Bertoldt Brecht, the government televised the draft lottery. They'd put all the birthdays into a drum, spin it and pick them one by one. The lower your number, the greater your chance of going to war.

I remember the year my brother got number 91. I still remember this 38 years later.

Then, America, under pressure from liberals ended the draft. Since the mid-70s, we've had an "all-volunteer" army.

This has had an unintended effect.

Wars are now hidden from us.

Our children, our neighbors, ourselves no longer have to go. They no longer get killed.

Wars which are distant geographically are also now distant psychographically.

So when a bunch of chicken hawks call for troops to go fight in some distant land, those of us in upper-middle-class America might hate it, but we don't feel it.

We never see the carnage or the coffins.

The all-volunteer army became a hidden army. An army primarily of the underclass fighting to protect primarily the upper class.

We need to make war--the culmination of evil--egalitarian again.

If we're so eager to fight wars, we should have to put skin in the game.

We shouldn't send someone else's kid to die if we're not willing to send our own kids to die.

--

Watch this link from 2:18 to 2:59. You'll get my drift.

Definition.

Years ago when I started in the business, and even before, successful agencies were defined by not just the work they created but by the brands they built.

You could, in effect, play a version of word-association. Agency word-association.

If in 1980 you said “DDB,” the response would be “VW,” or maybe “Polaroid.”
If you said “Scali,” the typical response would be “Perdue,” or “Volvo.”
Ally…Federal Express or Saab or MCI.
NW Ayer…AT&T.
Lord Geller…IBM.
And so on.

Somehow, almost 40 years ago agencies did important work which defined both the clients they worked for and themselves. This is not because they adopted a “house style” that meant such work was the only kind they did. It’s because their work was big, consistent and ubiquitous. Accordingly accounts stayed at their agencies for many years, if not decades.

Today such agency account associations are, I think, hard to come by.

Of course, you link Weiden and Nike.
And Ogilvy and IBM.
Maybe there are a few others, but I’m hard-pressed to name them.

I’m not sure which is cause and which is effect. Have ad agencies become less important because they’re not doing work that is instrumental to the propagation of a brand? Or has the atomization of messaging been so deleterious that advertising’s ability to define the ethos of a brand has diminished?

Most agencies have a page on their sites with a display of the logos they work on. Many creatives organize their online portfolios in a similar manner. It all begs the question—what did you actually do for that brand to make it stand for something and stick in the public’s consciousness?

I worry that as an industry we have chased the ephemera of 360 while ignoring our primary role as brand definers.

We say this, that and the other thing. Often in lieu of saying what’s really important.




Monday, August 25, 2014

Uncle Slappy on gravity.

Uncle Slappy called, as he so often does, just as I was in the arrears of waking up this morning. More often than not, Uncle Slappy wakes up in the fours. By the time six o'clock comes to bear, well, dammit, you should be up by now, he's been up for hours.

"Boychick, I learned something just now about Sir Isaac Newton. Undoubtedly," the old man continued, "Undoubtedly, a wife like your Aunt Sylvie he had."

"Well then," I answered, "Sir Isaac was a lucky man."

"Lucky, my foot. Newton probably had the bends from living with his wife. Like I have the bends from living with Aunt Sylvie these past 54 years."

"The bends?" I asked, innocently enough.

"Everything is so stuffed with stuff, every time you open a door to a cabinet or to the icebox or to the linen closet, something falls to the floor. And I have to bend and get it."

"Ergo, the bends."

"You're darn-tooting with your high-falutin' ergo. Last night into the icebox I ventured to get a slice of rye bread for this morning's breakfast that I could toast."

I unraveled the sentence then said, "Ok."

"Half of a Bohack's supermarket came tumbling out. Everything is balanced like a circus act on something else. She has in the deep freeze a three-pound can of Savarin coffee that she bought from when Roosevelt was president. Teddy, not Franklin. My foot was almost assassinamated by the three-pounder."

"I feel ya," I said. My wife is something of a pack-rat as well.

"Forget about that a-pocket-frill story about the apple on Newton's head. It was probably a three-pound can of Savarin on his foot."

With that, the old man hung up the blower.

I went into the kitchen to make some coffee.

Integrity.

Twice late last week, echoing off of various agency walls, I heard the word integrity.

I'll admit the word stops me in my tracks like a great black and white photograph, something by Walker Evans, Bernice Abbot, Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis or Louis Hine.
A Louis Hine photograph.

It's an old-fashioned word, integrity.

As old-fashioned as the aforementioned black-and-white photographs.

Like those photographs, the notion comes from a time when things were labored, costly, scrutinized and cared for.

I imagine a monk in a dimly-lit room making each letter letter perfect. And then the illuminator of those illuminated manuscripts making perfect prose art.

Integrity, if you look at it etymologically, is not about honesty. It's about wholeness and purity. It's about doing the job, doing it completely, and doing it well.

I understand, maybe better than any copywriter who's ever lived, the need for speed. Work needs to run and reach people if it's going to have an effect.

I also understand the tendency rife among creative people to be too precious. To perfect something to death.

But integrity has, really, little to do with time or speed.

And everything to do with breath.

Taking breaths, taking a moment so you know what it is you want. Seeing it in your mind or on your Mac. And working it to make sure it works.

Structuring it. Making it stand. And stand for something.

Work with integrity--work that is the product of care and caring, isn't always easy to come by. There are a lot of vicissitudes along the way, a lot of temptations to process, a lot of things that can get in the way.

The biggest obstacle to integrity isn't lack of talent. It's expedience. It's the attitude that the little things don't matter.

When usually it's the little things that matter most.



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Botero on the beach.


As we do both Saturday and Sunday, we piled into our 1966 Simca and sped (as much as the 48-year-old machine can speed) 20 miles up the coastline to Rye, New York. There, we spread open the doors and Whiskey galloped out onto the sand. I quickly grabbed the float I toss into the water for her to retrieve, and that was our next two hours, me tossing, despite my partially torn rotator cuff, and Whiskey swimming out to fetch what is hers.

About an hour into our routine, three squat Mexicans, two middle-aged men and a woman, walked onto the beach. The men dragged an inflatable two-man kayak to the edge of the water. Then they wend back to their station wagon and carried out fishing tackle, buckets and a cooler the size of a small filing cabinet.

The woman, the spouse of one and sister of the other, spent the whole time looking nervous. Her men were about to go out to fish for porgies in a craft more-suited to a small backyard swimming pool than the Long Island Sound. The men, as men so often are when they're doing something foolish, were completely nonchalant.

video
The two men, their physiques reminded me of the old Jimmy Rushing song, "Mr. Five by Five," each straddled a gunwale of the small boat, one leg in the water, one in the boat. They paddled in short, determined strokes until they were out by some rocks about a mile from the shore. Porgies lurk in the rocks, I was told.

Meanwhile, the wife/sister, also five by five, reclined on a red wooden bench that was stationed between the parking lot and the edge of the sandy beach. Anticipating a long, nervous wait, she reclined on the bench like a painting by Botero.

She had a pair of binoculars and she watched over her men like a 19th Century Sea Captain's wife on a widow's walk. She'd get up and pace nervously. Was it really worth it, she fretted, all this worry for a few porgies.

After about two hours, as Whiskey tired, the men paddled in.

"Didja catch any," I shouted their way.

"Nada, amigo, nada."

They dragged their small boat, buckets, rods and cooler up to the bench where their woman was sitting.

I accoutered Whiskey with her leash and we headed to the boardwalk about a mile away to dry off in the sun. 

"Adios," I called.

"Adios," they replied.

"Tal vez manana," the porgies chirped. "Perhaps tomorrow."