Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Some thoughts on brand behavior.

There was an obituary in yesterday's "New York Times" that got me thinking. You can read it here.

The obit was about a middling ballplayer, George Shuba, who was in the on-deck circle during Jackie Robinson's first minor league game. Robinson belted a homer. As he stepped on home-plate, Shuba was there to shake his hand.

That might not seem like a big deal in 2014, but it was in 1946. It was a small way of saying "I respect you." And, maybe "Welcome." And, maybe, if you want to be a trifle grandiose about it, "We are equal." Or "I don't see you as anything but a ballplayer and will treat you accordingly."

Today, of course, we talk a lot about brand behaviors.

But I wonder, then or now, how many brands stand up for humanity like Shuba did. How many brands are willing, really, to put a stake in the ground.

Maybe Shuba understood this.  

And so he treated Robinson as he would have treated any other human being.

There's so much misbehavior in the world.

And, it seems, often that we can do little to combat it.

Avoiding all the companies that don't pay a living wage, or misuse the environment, or promulgate radical right political stances would be a full-time job.

You'd have to get rid of your iPhone, stop filling up your car, and not watch the Giants on Fox.

It's hard to take a stand.

I don't know if it was hard for Shuba.

Or if he just stuck out his hand.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gratitude.

Perhaps the best thing about having started Ad Aged over seven years ago is that I've met, either in real life or virtually, several people whom I admire. I'll go as far as to say, though I've never even met some of them, they've become friends.

These people keep blogs themselves and write regularly. Through their posts, I feel like I've gotten to know them. Often, we write to each other off the record. And so, my "relationship" has over time with these people, deepened.

Dave Trott writes two blogs. One on "Campaign" magazine's site and one on the site of CST The Gate, an ad agency. His post yesterday, which you can find here is one of the best I've read in a long time. You really ought to read it. I'm glad I did.

If you aspire to be a member of the reality-based community, it also makes sense to read Bob Hoffman, the inimitable "Ad Contrarian." Bob and I have become real-life friends and his blog takes the wind out of the bull-shitters' sails. He's funny, caustic, impeccably logical and fact-based. All antidotes in a world that is serious, bland, spurious and specious.

The funniest guy I know, consistently funny, is Rich Siegel at "Round Seventeen" Like me, Rich is a freelancer. He writes about his successes and travails with candor and comedy. He's also a mensch. Which comes through in his writing. And he's helped me with advice and guidance when I was in the throes of unemployment.

You should also check out Neisha Tweed's blog, "Baby Food for Creatives." Neisha's on hiatus now, it appears. But she is strong and resourceful and has something to say.

Finally, there's Jenny Nicholson at "Mama Needs a Big Idea." Jenny deals with the vicissitudes of advertising, motherhood and life, with wit, humor and wisdom. She's well worth the daily drop-in.

Two more things might be said.

The first three guys I mentioned are guys. And like me, they're in or are approaching alte-kocker-hood. They have the experience of decades in the business. They've been at the top, or nearly so and bring that point of view to things.

Neisha and Jenny are women. And very much younger than I.  Accordingly, their insights and experiences are different than mine are or have, maybe, ever been. They're worth reading because they're great. And because they're different.

Finally, these five bloggers, and a couple more, have supplanted the Advertising trade magazines on my reading list. The trades, I suppose to wring cost out of their system, don't understand and love the business as we do. They aren't in it. They don't live it. And they don't know how to write about it.

I don't believe traditional journalism is dead. I do believe it's stopped trying. And I have to believe that no advertising writer at the "Times," "Adweek," or "Ad Age" has the same kind of following that any of the above have.

Enjoy them.

And, btw, every once in a while, drop them a note or comment.

It's lonely out here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My last at bat.


As Derek Jeter played yesterday the last of his 2,746 games in the big leagues, I went back 39 years to my last game in the Mexican Baseball League. It was a sad last game, and though the baseball gods owed me nothing, I wish I had had a better end to it all.

When I went to play for the Saraperos de Saltillo, I quickly realized I had some adjustments to make. It was a little bit like work, actually, when you work at a really good place. You find the synapses come a little quicker, the thoughts are a little deeper and the demands upon you are a little higher.

It was that way with the Saraperos.

The pitchers were faster than in high school. The ball came off the bat with more speed and power and the arms of those you played with and against were stronger and truer.

In high school, I was a behemoth. I was a power hitter and could swing from my heels. In the Mexican League, dealing with tougher competition, I choked up on my bat and moved up in the batter’s box. I tried to head off the ball before the curve broke in. I also shortened my swing, hoping to spray the ball about, rather than go for the fences.

Though I didn’t set the league on fire, this method resulted in a creditable season for me. I batted more than my weight, .277, and slugged nine home runs including a grand slam. I also had 14 doubles to go with my 66 rbis.

My last at bat was the last game of the season, a home game against our closest rivals, the Toros de Tijuana. We were down three to two and had two outs in the bottom of the ninth with men on first and second. I came up to bat needing nothing more than a base hit to tie the game. I knew these could be not only my last licks of the season but the last licks of my short-lived professional career.

The pitch, I can still picture it, came in shoulder high, just where I liked them. I always was a bad ball hitter. But instead of swinging hard at it, I slapped at the sphere and hit a weak line-drive to short center, right where the centerfielder was waiting for it.

I don’t regret, almost 40 years later, that my last real at bat (I played some softball after this, but no real games of consequence) resulted in an out. Of course, I would rather have retired like Ted Williams, hitting a homer in my last at bat, or like Jeter, getting ahold of one for a single. I hit a lazy fly to center.

What I regret was that I had shortened my swing, that I didn’t lay into one, that, for more than a few good reasons, I had stopped swinging for the fences.

All this, of course, is a metaphor for our business. Sometimes, I suppose, you have to choke up and just make contact. Try to hit the ball, somewhere. You can’t always swing for the fences. Sometimes you just have to meet the pill and put it in play. But when you get the opportunity and you merely slap at the ball, well, that really sucks.

I wish I had that one pitch back.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

We visit Katz's with Uncle Slappy.


Uncle Slappy and I had one more journey to take on Saturday. It had been decided that it would be nice to have sandwiches from Katz's for dinner and Uncle Slappy, my daughter Hannah and I were to procure them.

We got into the Simca and hit the FDR. In just moments we were exiting at Houston and heading west along the never-ending construction of the broad street. I took a quick right through the traffic barricades onto Avenue A, then a quick left onto 2nd Street. Almost magically, it must be the luck of having both Hannah and Uncle Slappy with me, I pulled into a spot mid-block. No meter, no restrictions, no small feat.

I love Katz's. It is the last, pretty much of the old-timey deli/restaurants, and the best as well. It's mayhem inside, organized chaos, and with shoving, and pushing and jockeying for position in front of one of the sandwich makers--middle-aged Puerto Rican men with huge tattooed Popeye forearms from slicing slabs of meat by hand and their dark hair in snoods to keep it from the meat.

Uncle Slappy and I made our way to a sandwich man, while Hannah--who knows her way around Katz's (I taught her well) got Dr. Brown's sodas and Katz's really superior french fries.

Uncle Slappy was called upon.

"I'll have the Jewish Trifecta," he said to the sandwich man.

"Pastrami..."

"Corned beef..."

"and brisket," the sandwich man finished. "Three sandwiches, all on rye, with mustard."

The sandwich man obliged and began hewing the meat like Paul Bunyan felling an oak. With each different meat, he handed over a small plate with a sample. Uncle Slappy who loves my daughters with a love that surpasses all love, shuffled over to Hannah with each plate as it appeared. She had a taste of pastrami. Then corned beef. Then a schtickle of brisket.

I had put a $5 tip in the one-quart plastic soup container. That assured us good samples. And when Uncle Slappy asked for sour pickles and a handful of sauerkraut, the sandwich man obliged with the generosity of a brined Santa Claus.

We handed over our Rosetta Stone of a ticket, and the sandwich guy scribbled some Cuneiform runes. I slid the ticket into my pocket, we reunited with Hannah and headed toward the register, $83.75. We thought for a minute about buying a scented Katz's candle that smells like an egg-cream, but that was $24 we needn't spend.

From Katz's, 205 E. Houston, we walked to Yonah Schimmel's knishery, 137 E. Houston, more to see the old place than to fill up. But to be on the safe side, and to trickle down some money, we bought a container of kasha varniskas and a kasha knish.

We then walked the three blocks back to the car and headed home, getting the timing just right of the lights on First Avenue. Round trip took us slightly less than an hour.

My wife and Aunt Sylvie had set the dining room table with the good china. It made for a rather incongruous pairing, the Katz's and the Wedgewood. But all of us understood the conceit.

This was, after all, a special meal.




Saturday, September 27, 2014

Uncle Slappy on the beach.


Uncle Slappy and I woke up well before sunrise this morning. We had decided yesterday evening that just the two of us would have some putative father-son time and would drive up to Larchmont and would take Whiskey to the beach.

Uncle Slappy is nearing 87 and I’m no dope. I know he’s long-exceeded the Biblical three-score-and-ten, and each time I see him, I can see the vicissitudes of age visiting upon him. Therefore, I take advantage of every possible moment we can together share.

I’ll admit my actual father and I were more often than not at loggerheads. From a very early age, I was closer to Uncle Slappy than I ever was with my old man. This wasn’t because, as is often the case with grand-parents or favorite uncles, Uncle Slappy indulged me. He was just as likely to smack me in the back of my head as my own old man. He didn’t, as they say, suffer fools gladly. And there are hardly on earth bigger fools that young boys and young men feeling their oats.

Uncle Slappy had no truck with pretense, arrogance, self-absorption or any of the other affectations of youth. To get along with the old man, you had to do one thing. You had to act like a mensch. You had to, simply, be a man.

There was no whining, no excuses, no bs. If there was a job to do, you did it and you didn’t spend the rest of the day telling the world how hard you worked. You hadn’t done anything special. You had just made the correct of the two choices a person faces. You have, after all, just two choices: you can be a schmuck. Or you can be a man.

In any event, Uncle Slappy and Whiskey and I piled into the Simca at around 6:15 this morning and pulled into the darkness as we headed north.

We rattled over the FDR, with potholes as large as the craters on the moon. Things were a little worse on the Bruckner, where the potholes are as large as those on Io, the fourth of Jupiter’s moons. By the time we hit 95, we were traversing up and down the potholes like an old wooden trawler fighting 60-footers during a major storm at sea.

Finally after a little more than half an hour, we wound our way through the stately homes and hit the beach in Larchmont. Whiskey bounded out of the back seat and headed right into the sea. Uncle Slappy and I followed by about five minutes. The old man won’t win any Olympic medals, but he makes his way ok.

I took ahold of Whiskey’s toy, a long day-glo orange float with a two-foot rope attached to one end. I slung it underhand into the water and Whiskey galumphed in after it, half bounding (it was low-tide) half swimming in the murk.

The sun was slowly coming up over Long-Island. The sky was clear and blue. The air was fresh and warm. Whiskey bounded in the surf. She played in the water with a German Shepherd named Truman.

Uncle Slappy took it all in.

He reached out and held my hand.

A perfect morning.




Friday, September 26, 2014

The 11-day rule.

Maybe it's because I've lived a long time, maybe it's because I'm relatively observant, maybe it's because I have a strangely mathematical mind.

I put numbers to things.

When I drive somewhere, I know it's four minutes to the Triboro, seven on the Bruckner, 12 on 95, and so on. I'm logistically acute that way. Always have been.

For instance, I know that it takes my hair nine days to recover from a haircut.

So if I have a big event to attend on October 20th, say, I'll get my haircut on the 11th. Nine days after getting barbered is when I look my best.

I call that my Nine-Day-Rule.

I also have an 11-Day-Rule.

I've noticed that when things you rely on change--titles at work, the design of a favorite website, the speed limit on a stretch of road, whatever, it takes about 11 days to adjust.

There's a great deal of tsimmis about the new iPhone and its operating system ios8.

I have the new iPhone, and I've been using the new OS.

I have to say, the changes I've seen so far are pretty mild. They're on the order of switching from a sesame bagel to a poppy. You have to learn to make sure your teeth are clean. But you don't see seeds all over your upholstery. In short order, everything's cool again.

To all those people who howl and bay and bark at every minor change, then howl and bay and bark that Apple, like every other company, has become incrementalist rather than revolutionary, go find something more important to do for the next 11 days.

Then look at your phone and see if you even remember the change.

We know what's right and we do what's wrong.

This week a 20-year-old memo from David Abbott has been making its way through my Facebook and LinkedIn feeds. It's about the pernicious tendency of agencies to "gang bang" and the negative effects of such behavior.

What makes Abbott's memo great is that he lays it all out, eloquently, in one place. The browbeating, the lack of ownership, the lack of confidence, and the lack of relationship with the client--all of which lead to gang-banging, which leads to sub-par work.

You can find Abbott's opus on Ben Kay's surpassing blog, here.

What strikes me most about Abbott's memo is that most 23-year-old juniors could have written the same thing. Assuming, that is, they can write.

We all know about the negative effects of lack of ownership. Isn't that why the Soviet Union fell?

We all know that time matters.

We all know how foolish it is to spend nights and weekends writing 50 commercials to get one.

We all know these things.

Even the heads of the holding companies know these things--even if they're really insurance salesmen or accountants in real life.

We all know these things.

Yet we do the opposite.

We say, this time's the exception. Or in today's digital world things are different.

We find some excuse. Concoct being a better word than find.

Just like we find some reason to lower our prices so much that we can't reasonably do a good job for our clients.

Or we find some reason not to say "no," not to fight for what we believe in.

We know what's right. We do what's wrong.

Balls.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A non-post for New Year.

I'm taking the day off from blogging today.

Something I should probably do more often.

To preserve myself a bit. To not be so "on," so intense.

It's Rosh h'Shanah. The start of Jewish Rush Week.

When millions of Jews fan out across the world with little booklets, knock on doors and stop people on the street and urge them to convert to Judaism.

Oh, wait.

Wrong religion.

No, it's the start of the Jewish New Year.

A time of both reflection and celebration.

And, if you're a freelancer, a time to write a couple dozen TV scripts.

I'm trying hard to take it easy today, however.

I'm not at either of my usual freelance stations.

In fact, while my wife, Aunt Sylvie and daughter Hannah are at Temple, Uncle Slappy and I abjured. He's trying to teach me to play pinochle for the millioneth time.

I don't have a head for cards.

And I like the shirt I'm wearing.

If I learned, I'd surely lose it to him.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Uncle Slappy on Rosh h'Shanah.

I have a lot of work on my docket, a lot of things hanging over my head, so I got up early this morning--4:17 to be precise--to knock a few of those things off my to-do list. This is my usual M.O. when I'm feeling pressure like I'm feeling now, and it's always worked for me. I might be a trifle sleep-deprived for a few days, but I slay the dragons I'm meant to and I'm able to push the people nipping at me back on their heels. That's a good feeling.

This morning, however, instead of having my quiet time to type away my worries, Uncle Slappy was in the kitchen drinking a cup of cold coffee, eating a day-old danish he had removed from our bread-box and pouring over volume 20 (Madjanek to Mengele) of a 32-volume encyclopedia (abridged) of the Holocaust.

He began, as he so often does, like a champion swordsman, with an offensive thrust that almost, almost cut me.

"Good morning, sleepy-head."

I gave him a kiss on the top of his head and went into the living room and to my Mac.

He padded into the room and sat on the sofa cater-corner to me. "So, on Rosh h'Shanah you're working?"

"Really, Uncle Slappy, the holiday doesn't begin until sunset tonight. There's no Talmudic injunction against writing a bit of copy on the day before the High Holidays."

Even though Uncle Slappy was a Rabbi for 55 years, he looks at religion and doctrinaire "holiness" in much the same way I do. Believe all you want but if god is all-mighty, all-powerful and all-good, where was he between 1933 and 1945 when nearly seven-million of his chosen were chosen to be immolated in ovens. That said, he really doesn't cotton to me working on the holidays. Whether or not you're a True Believer, he believes you have to take the time off because, well, you have to.

"OK, boychick," he said opening volume 20, "this year you're taking off?"

The past two years I've been shooting on Rosh h'Shanah. And the old man hasn't forgotten that. For Uncle Slappy and me, it's not about going to temple, or synagogue, or shul, or whatever, it's about finding some space in your head to think about the world, think about your family, think about your life and think about how you can do better. You're more likely to find that space if you're not ensconced in a conference room listening to some newspeak advertising drivel.

"I'll be home tomorrow, Uncle Slappy. I might need to take a phone call or two, and I'll check email, but I won't be going into the office."

He sat back in the sofa, put a bookmark in volume 20 and closed the book. He sipped at his cold coffee and looked vaguely pleased.

"Listen, boychick," he said. "Do me a flavor, will ya?"

"Anything, Uncle Slappy."

"Zap me a danish. And tomorrow," he continued, "don't work too hard."



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Uncle Slappy arrives.

Our issues with Con Ed continue.
Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Slappy arrived last night, though how they did it, I'm not entirely sure. They showed up at my apartment around eight, having flown in from Boca.

Uncle Slappy was carrying their things in a large dufflebag he had slung over his shoulder. He insists he would rather be dead than pull a wheelie bag. Aunt Sylvie carried a large Corning Ware casserole dish with its glass lid atop it. Inside was, of course, a brisket. Said brisket being her gracious response to our ongoing problem with Consolidated Edison of New York.

They barged in, of course, and Slappy greeted me with these immortal words: "The itinerant cow is here."

"The itinerant cow," I repeated, "the peregrinating pot-roast."

Uncle Slappy dropped the bag he was carrying in our foyer. I give the old man credit. He's nearing 87 and he keeps on going. He's a regular Jack Palance. Aunt Sylvie meanwhile headed right to our kitchen to confab with my wife. I'm sure they were discussing the intricacies of brisket management.

Free from baggage Uncle Slappy and I went to hug. Neither of us are very good at hugging but somehow we managed. When we unclenched he began his gallop.

"Get me Mr. Consolidated on the blower. He needs a piece of my mind."

"I'm afraid that won't help," I said, trying to calm the old man. "We're making do, managing to stave off starvation even though we have no stove or oven."

"It's a cabal. Con Ed's in league with the local takeout places. It's a scandal. A conspiracy."

I led him into the kitchen where my wife and Aunt Sylvie were still in flagrante delicto over the brisket. He sat down and I poured him a cup of viscous coffee, black, and brought him a small platter of danish pastries, including a cherry danish, his favorite. I figured coffee and would take the edge off the old man.

No dice.

"You got these from someone's Shiva?" he asked.
Glaser's on 87th and First. One of the last places on earth to get a decent danish.

"No, Uncle Slappy," I assured him. "These are pre-death pastries. I bought the danish at Glaser's (the last real bakery in my neighborhood) and the coffee's from Fairway--the blend you like. 99% espresso beans with one Colombian thrown in for texture."

He peeled the outer ring of danish off from the main structure of the disc. He took a small bite, closed his eyes, then took another bite.

"No one makes danish like this anymore. It's impossible to find anything like this below the Mason-Danish line."

"You mean the Mason-Dixon line."

"No, I mean there's a line down the center of Bleeker Street below which there's no more good danish. The Mason-Danish line."

He turned his focus from me back to his cake. He was circling around it, isolating the cherried goop in the center.

"This is the apotheosis," he said "of the danish-maker's art. This is the Venus de Milo of danish. The danish-equivalent of Nike at Samothrace."

I went over to the kitchen counter and refilled his cup of coffee just as he was polishing off the last of his treat. He pushed himself away from the small table in our eat-in and he, too, walked to our kitchen table. There, he found a baker's cardboard box with three more danish inside: an almond, an apple and another cherry.

"You are a good man," he said to me.

He then padded off to the guest room.

It was late. And his stomach was full.