Friday, March 27, 2015

The sky clears. Finally.

Last night the gloom of winter seemed to lift from New York. Despite an explosion downtown that injured dozens and brought 250 fire-fighters, hundreds of police and Hizzoner to the scene, the snow has finally gone the way of all flesh, the spitting rain had cleared, and the temperatures were inching toward the 60s. The sky was rosy-fingered.

In short, baseball was in the air.

If you're a New Yorker of a certain age, there's something even more alluring than Julie Christie in "Dr. Zhivago," or Catherine Deneuve in "Umbrellas," or even the minx a few desks away with the come-hither smile. And that's baseball.

The green grass. The crack of bat meeting ball. The loping outfielder who turns a sure-double into an easy out.

Of late, I've been wearing the black and orange woolen cap of the old New York Giants who held court until they fled west to Baghdad by the Bay, 58 years ago. Most people mistake the cap--which hasn't been seen in these environs since Eisenhower was president for the one worn by the Mets. But that ignorance is what separates the men from the boys. I wouldn't be seen dead in a Mets' cap, or a Yankee's cap for that matter. And Brooklyn, I haven't even visited since the early 90s, having gotten lost on the subway or something.

But the New York Giants, were Manhattan's team, playing way uptown, across the Harlem River from the Cathedral, Yankee Stadium, they played in the Polo Grounds, and were most-clearly the third team in a three team city.

Nevertheless, they were New York, and I am New York, so it's their cap I wear. Anachronisms be damned.

But back to last night, as the skies cleared, the sap was running and the air was warming. I stepped out of a yellow cab and announced to the Avenue, "It's here. Baseball season."

A like-aged man was crossing the street toward me.

"Baseball," he said, "Baseball and Ballantine."

We both laughed.

Maybe the last two New Yorkers who remembered.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My other Uncle.

I've written in this space, a fair amount about my old man's brother, Sid, and, of course, Uncle Slappy, but I've seldom writ about his other brother, the really old one, Oscar.

Sid became a great success in advertising, in Philadelphia. He owned that city's largest advertising agency, called Weightman. Legend has it that he rented space in the Weightman building and named his agency Weightman so clients and prospective clients would think he owned the building.
The Tannenbaum boys grew up on Phiadelphia's impoverished immigrant West Side and didn't have two dimes to rub together. Their old man, my grandfather, died when my father was just 13 or so, and even when he was running his small tailor shop out of the basement of their row house on 51st Street and Walnut, well, he was hardly Hart, Schaffner or Marx.

Oscar was the oldest and he always had an angle. Toward the end of his life he owned a clothing store in nearby Wilmington, Delaware which, in the inimitable words of my termagant mother, sold schvartza clothing.

Before he became a haberdasher, for a couple of summers, Oscar had a booth down at Rehoboth Beach on the Delaware shore. He painted his sign himself and curtained off the back half of his booth. 

The sign read "World's Worst Freak Show~~Oddities, Attractions, Strange, Inhuman and Eerie~~Come One! Come All! Admission Ten Cents. Children Strictly Prohibited. Women barred for fear of fainting."

Inside the booth, Uncle Oscar surely did run the world worst freak show. That said, for about two summers, he did clean up. Amassing enough money to open up his schvartza clothing shop in Wilmington.

He hung signs around the back.

You MUST see it to believe IT!

Two WEAKS [sic] Only: The Strange and Preposterous Un-TATTOOED man!

The Boney FAT WOMAN.
She EATS, She Drinks Every DAY!


Not far, I guess, from a career in advertising.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Me and Updike.

Years ago I was running, at a very young age, the largest retail bank account in New York. The problem with being a copywriter on a bank account is that unless you’re part of the demographic, which I wasn’t, it’s hard to know what the demographic is thinking. What scares them. What pains them. What moves them. What are their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

For weeks I thought and thought. I talked to the client. I talked to the agency’s “research” person (this was before the time of planners.) I attended focus group after focus group.

No matter, I just couldn't get a grip on the soul of the target.

I went out for a walk.

To clear my head.

In those days, agencies made enough money to have offices near the clients they served. I was working near Grand Central Terminal and I walked that way. There was, pre-internet, a giant piss-soaked room ringed with phone-booths in Grand Central. In the center of the room there was a vast table that held just about every phone book in America.

This was how you could look someone up before Google.

I had an epiphany.

I found John Updike’s number in rural Connecticut and called him. I got the old man on the phone and introduced myself and my problem.

“Got it,” he said laconically. “Got it, got it, got it, got it.”

I stood there in Grand Central silent.

“Who is he? Your customer? Get a pencil. Number two. Yellow. Sharp. And a pad. I don’t care what kind.”

“Got it.”

“He owns Springer Motors, one of the two Toyota agencies in the Brewer area. Or rather he co-owns a half interest with his wife Janice, her mother Bessie sitting on the other half inherited when old man Springer died five years back.”

He was in a trance.

“He feels he owns it all, showing up at the showroom day after day, riding herd on the paperwork and the payroll, swinging in his clean suit in and out of Service and Parts where the men work filmed with oil and look up white-eyed from the bulb-lit engines as in a kind of underworld while he makes contact with the public, the community, the star and the spearpoint of all these two dozen employees and hundred thousand square feet of working space…”

It was four AM when he stopped. I had run through $32 of dimes.

Back to the office, fueled by benzedrine and nicotine and black coffee, I worked round the clock and round the clock again.

Twenty scripts later, I had my campaign.

Thanks, John.

Found Copywriting: Formality on the Bouwerie.

Found Copywriting: From Winnipeg.

Reader Tim Kist, from the frozen north, sent this in. Thanks, Tim.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Drunk in the Tempus Fugit.

“It’s often been said,” the bartender began without the usual niceties like ‘hello,’ or ‘long time, no see.’ “It’s often been said,” he repeated, “that when a great athlete gets in the groove, everything around him seems to slow down.”

He hustled, not unlike a great athlete, around the mahogany woodwork and placed a small bowl filled with cold, clear water for Whiskey. She was already resting at the foot of my barstool, her eyelids heavy with the weight of 3AM on them. In a trice, or even a jiffy, he was back behind the business-side of the bar, pulling me a Pike’s Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!)

“They say that when DiMaggio was in the middle of his 56-game hitting streak back in 1941, the ball came in as fat as a musk-melon.”

“It's been years since I had a good musk-melon,” I said, draining Pike’s number one.

He pulled me another glass of suds and slid over a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts and an over-sized jar filled with pickled hard-boiled eggs. I think the eggs dated from around the time of DiMaggio’s streak. As usual, I demurred.

“People come in here,” he said, wiping clean the bar with his well-worn white terry, “people come in here and I barely think they’re alive.”


“Yes,” he said emphatically, pulling me another amber. “Drunk on distraction. Like the Emperor Jones who succumbed to the incessant tom-tomming of distant drums, like Poe’s protagonist who fell to the tintinnabulations of the bells, bells, bells, they are subsumed by the pings, the bells, the chimes, the peals, the beeps, the whistles and the very vibrations of their devices.”

“I know the type,” I said.

“With everyone every minute connected to everything, ignorance poses as knowledge. The digital chaff is inseparable from the digital wheat.”

“Speaking of wheat,” I tapped my glass and he pulled me number three.

“From papyrus, to print, to petabyte, we are drowning in a sea, a miasma, if you will, of nonsense.”

“Perhaps,” I joshed, “I could bring around a digital strategist to re-orient you. There are plenty at my office.”

“We know more and more about less and less, until it winds up we know everything about nothing.”

I laughed and nodded. “I know whereof you speak.” I pulled two twenties from my wallet. “I work in advertising.”

I slid the bills across to him.

“I’ll tell you what Google glass should be,” he said, returning the tender. “Instead of making everything that’s irrelevant ever-present, they should make invisible everything that’s irrelevant.”

Whiskey and I found our way home through the darkness.

Something's wrong.

Last night, I don't remember what I was reading, but all of a sudden I felt like I couldn't breathe. I felt so distant, disconnected and removed from our industry. As if I had arrived at an ad agency in Istanbul and was asked to write an ad in Turkish.

It was a "want" ad that set me off.

It was someone "seeking" a social media strategist.

After a lifetime in this business--literally a lifetime--I felt like the whole thing had collapsed.

Usually when I see a want ad that sounds vaguely interesting, I think about out-of-work friends who might fill the job. If it's a big job, like an executive creative director, I think about whether it's right for me.

But like I said, this job was for a social media strategist.

It gnawed at me.

I'm not being funny here.

Or acting stupid to make a point.

I can't for the life of me--and I'm down in the trenches--tell you what possibly a social media strategist would do for 20 or 40 hours a week.

I simply don't know what the words mean.

Like I said, I've been around the agency business for all of my 57 years. My uncle ran Philadelphia's biggest shop. My old man was chairman of a top-20 US agency. I got my first agency job 31 years ago.

I know a lot about the business. But this has me baffled. I've never seen the product of a social media strategist. Never, knowingly anyway, seen an effort by one to influence the way I think or act. As far as I know, I know nothing.

If I had to characterize life today, I'd say that we know more and more and more about less and less and less. We'll exhume Cervantes' bones and learn that he ate goose liver, or something. But while we're spouting about all we know, we overlook basic human truths. While we extol companies like Apple for making things simple, we make our own lives complicated.

Advertising, whether it's on TV or social media, whether it's a blimp or a billboard, has to get people's attention. Then, it has to make a promise to them.

That's how interpersonal communications have worked since the beginning of time. From back when we were testing out walking on two, rather than four, legs.

If you know what a social media strategist does, or if you are one, please do me a favor. Send me a note or call me up.

I'd like to know what you do.

Monday, March 23, 2015

My take on March Madness.

Much of the TV I watch, I watch with the sound off.

This time of year, for instance, it's hard for me not to get a little wrapped up by March Madness. And since there seems to be a game on every channel, 24-hours-a-day, when I have some work to do, which I usually do, I'll turn a game on and the sound off, and have it on as background while I'm doing what they pay me for.

It's not real hard to keep track of a basketball game without volume. The score is always present, and super-titles come on if someone notable has made a somewhat notable play. Also, they replay that play ad nauseam as if it were the storming of Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima.

Yesterday I had a three or five tasks to do and I turned on the set.

The Wichita State Shockers were playing against the University of Kansas Jayhawks. I don't have much fealty toward either team.

Sinewy tattooed men ran up and back for 40 minutes of playing time, doing all kinds of impossible things with and without a basketball.

When all was said and done the Shockers edged the Jayhawks. People in yellow were happy. People in blue were sad. The tummy-displaying Shocker cheerleaders seemed fairly ebullient. They made me wish I were in college again.

The game was over.

My work was done.

It was time to cook dinner.

Which I did.

As Oklahoma beat Dayton.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Doyle makes a discovery.

(With grammar corrected and humor moderated by the Editor.)

4 October, 1902

Last night twas raining like the veritable flood. There was no one who wasn't dripping wet and soaked unto their bones.

I ran through the rain to the Weinstock's house and when the Mrs. saw me she had my shoes off in a minute and had me sitting by the clanking radiator until I was dry as a soda cracker. Then I was off to my usual chores around the Weinstock apartment.

Stoke the furnace, empty the ashes, clean and move and lift and carry. It's all in a day's work and it is what I do. The Weinstock's don't work me too hard, they feed me well, and Rebbe and even Malka take me aside and teach me things I wouldn't learn in school. They are educated people, reading all the time--from books, to the daily newspaper, to Rebbe Weinstock pouring over his ancient and Holy Jewish texts.

Tonight, I heard the Rebbe arrive home even before he was up the two flights of stairs to their apartment. The front door slammed, an "Oy" rang out like the roll of ancient thunder, and then came the water-soaked tromping up the stairs to his home.

I ran out to help Rebbe Weinstock, he almost always is loaded down with parcels and bundles and his heavy black leather grip, which he everywhere carries. And then it happened.

The Rebbe handed me his grip, rain-soaked and slippery as it was, and as I was reaching for it, it slipped from my hand--the bag weighs 20 pounds if it weighs an ounce. It crashed on the floor and its contents spilled all over the tile of the landing before Weinstock's doorway.


What is it that the Rebbe does with the fearsome implements in this bag. With all manner of clamps and knives and what look like invidious instruments of torture. Is the Rebbe some sort of necromancer, practicing the horrible black arts of the Jewish cult? What are these tools  for? What horrors, unspeakable, do they bring, and who suffers at the Rebbe's hand?

Pretending I saw nothing, I scooped the fallen devices into his bag and handed the satchel to the Rebbe.

But what, Diary, what were they?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Stop. Please. Stop.

"...One of the other problems I have today is people have retreated to the edges of advertising. You know, they’re happy to do some small little campaign somewhere or they’re doing something on the net that hardly anybody sees and they’re getting awards for it and everybody’s cheering. But they’re not changing the way people feel or think."

--Sir John Hegarty

A couple days ago, an agency I used to work with, very publicly dropped the "D" and "G" from its name (just for a day or two, I suppose) to protest some stupidity uttered by some ass at Dolce & Gabbana. 

I can think of no better illustration of what Hegarty is talking about above.

We've stopped talking about the work we do, the businesses we've built, the brands we've fortified.

Instead, we promulgate our holiday videos, our 'service' days and dopey things like changing our name for a day.

We're so proud of these ephemeral and trivial efforts that we talk more about them than the successes we've brought, not to ourselves, but to our clients.

I don't know, or understand, this agency self-absorption. This maniacal self-promotion. Not through actual paid work we do, but through 'stuntification.'

To me it says all you can do is stand on a chair and play the saxophone while juggling tuna-salad sandwiches. 

It doesn't say you can do good work that works.

If you want attention, do something worthy of attention.