October 30, 2009

Things That Go Backwards

Yellow legal pads used to be for people who used lots of paper and didn't want to pay the premium for more refined white paper. Now you pay extra for them.

Stinky goat cheese used to be for poor people who couldn't afford the classier cow kind. Now it's a delicacy.

It's easier to play the guitar than Guitar Hero.

Note To Apple

Someone left me a voice mail at 3:30 yesterday afternoon. It didn't arrive at my iPhone until 7:55 this morning. That's 16 hours and 25 minutes later. I'm really getting tired of this shit.

Here's the thing, Steve. I don't need an app that tells me what my fucking sperm count is, or when Jupiter crosses the fucking plane of the ecliptic. I need to get my fucking phone calls and my fucking emails, okay?

Christmas for the maladjusted.

Damn right I'm grumpy.

October 29, 2009

Creative For Carpetbaggers

One ad phenomenon I always get a laugh out of is when Big Dumb Corporations and their Big Dumb Agencies introduce their product or service into a new market. They always try to link themselves to some stupid cliche about the area to demonstrate that they are "homies."

So if some company is moving into LA, they take their icon and put sunglasses on it. Or if they are going into the Pacific Northwest, they say or do something about rain.

A painful example of this is happening right now in the San Francisco area. In the financial meltdown of the past year, Chase wound up owning Washington Mutual, which was a big player in California.

For the past month or so Chase has been running an outdoor campaign that says "You'll always find our ATMs. Even in this fog."

Only one problem.

Anyone who lives in the SF bay area knows that September and October are the best months of the year here. The fog rolls in in June and stays until the end of July. It takes a well-deserved break in September and October and we get mostly glorious clear days with temperatures in the 70's.

Chase might as well be posting billboards that say, "We are overfed bozos from New York who don't know the first thing about this area and are too arrogant to bother finding out."

October 27, 2009

Brains Falling Out

How To Succeed In Social Media
The smartest thing I've read about social media in a long time, from Monday Morning Memo:
"Focus your attention on your customers. Social media will take care of itself."

Thanks to Mike Hunt for this (c'mon, is that really your name?)

Oh, It's All About Me!
Has there ever been a bigger, stupider, more cliche-ridden campaign than Yahoo's new global "branding" campaign? That's a rhetorical question.

It would be hard to find a campaign that more thoroughly runs counter to my brilliant principles of advertising. What? You haven't read my brilliant principles? Here you go.

Nerd's Eye View
I admit it. I'm a geek. Just about the only things I watch on TV (when baseball season is over) are Nova and Nature and shows about black holes and sea otters.

I love nature and trees and seahorses and cuddly koalas and all of God's and Disney's creatures just as much as the next guy. But I've about had it with every wildlife program ending with the solemn pronouncement that man is the problem. Aren't there any other problems besides us? Aren't tornadoes a problem? And drought? And disease? And asteroids? And earthquakes? And Twitter? Can't we at least share some of the blame?

And Speaking Of Twitter
On March 3, 2009 TAC predicted we would soon have "
Twitter: The Musical."

Well, we were close. According to Ad Broad, there was some kind of Broadway/Twitter thing that happened earlier this year. I'm not sure what it was because when I try to read this Twitter crap my brains start falling out.

I predicted that it
would mark the beginning of the end of the Great Twitter Scare of '09. Let's hope I was right.

October 25, 2009

Free Speech Comes Full Circle

In the early 1960's, Berkeley students created something called the "Free Speech Movement." It incorporated some of the tactics of the civil rights movement of the 50's and helped give birth to the student activism that came to define the era.

A significant component of the radical, hippie culture we think of when we see those amusing pictures of the 60's can be attributed to the influence of the Free Speech Movement.

Fifty years later, the final nail may have been driven into the coffin of Berkeley's heritage as a place where all ideas are welcome and all points of view are respected.

It happened over a silly parade.

Thirteen years ago a bunch of Berkeley eccentrics started an annual parade called "How Berkeley Can You Be?" which poked fun at Berkeley's slavish adherence to political correctness.

The parade was "a bacchanalian romp through downtown that featured everything from flame throwers to Nobel laureates to motorized couches," said the SF Chronicle.

Participants sold beer off the back of floats, tossed candy to kids, and walked down University Avenue naked.

One group was called PETA, People Eating Them Animals, in which paraders shot Spam into the crowd and handed out cigarets.

Other floats included a flame thrower affixed to a chair on a hydraulic lift, a motorized sofa ridden by people in bathrobes reading the Sunday newspaper, a group called Berkeley Dykes, who performed a song and dance about "letting lesbians take over Berkeley and sending the straights to Straightsylvania."

"It was tongue-in-cheek satire. We really liked to push the envelope," said parade organizer Karen Hester. "But it's getting increasingly hard to be creative and have fun in this city. Berkeley's become really kind of an uptight place."

Like all cowardly, nasty governments, the Berkeley city authorities undermined the parade by finding innocent looking ways to create impossible barriers. This allowed them to maintain deniability for sabotaging the parade.

Beer could only be sold sold in a roped-off area staffed by police. "Who wants to sit inside this pen with police while you drink a beer?" Hester said.

The city also cracked down on participants throwing candy to kids (you see, children running pose a safety hazard. Also, they might be in danger of having fun.) Nudity and flame throwing were also deemed unacceptable.

The parade was canceled.

"We look forward to them having the parade back next year," said a mealy-mouthed spokesperson for the city. "Hopefully they'll have had more time to plan for a safe, fun event where you can send your kids."

After 50 years, the puritans have regained control of Berkeley. This time around they're draped in left-wing, politically correct apparel, but they're the same self-righteous bullies they were before "free speech."

Gag me.

October 22, 2009

Everybody Lies About Sex

From time to time I reserve the right to abandon the horrors of advertising and write about something else. Today I feel like scribbling on a subject I am supremely unqualified to mouth off about and is likely to cause me nothing but trouble -- sex.

The David Letterman and Roman Polanski "scandals" have me thinking about sex.

I mean, more than usual.

Let's start at the beginning.

The beginning is 200,000 years ago when the first of our species appeared. If we were able to go back and look at the first bunch of humans who showed up, we would expect to find a normal pattern of variation in their sexual appetites. Some would be very horny. Most (by definition) would be averagely horny. And some would have a lesser appetite for sex.

The horny crowd would tend to be more sexually active. Which means that they would tend to produce more offspring. These offspring would tend to inherit characteristics from their parents, including a proclivity to be horny.

As time went on, the population of humans would always show a pattern of variation in the sexual appetite of its constituents. But because of the tendency of the horny crowd to leave more offspring, human population would move toward a higher component of horny individuals. This is how natural selection works.*

After about 8,000 generations (I'm guessing that the average "generation" over the history of our species is about 25 years. 200,000 divided by 25 is 8,000) our species has -- just like every other species that reproduces sexually -- been bred for horniness.

Another way of saying this is that after 8,000 generations, those individuals who like to screw have created way more kids than those who don't. The offspring of these heavy screwers have swamped the offspring of the light screwers, and probably inherited their parents' excitable natures.

So, pretty much, all we have left in our species are individuals who enjoy a good screwing.

Now we need to factor in culture and sociology. Our records of human behavior are extremely sketchy. We have some history of the past 4 or 5 thousand years. But the previous 98% of human history is mostly a mystery.

What we know about the last 2,000 years is that there have been a lot of cultural limitations and taboos put on sexual activity.

So the conflict is obvious. Nature has bred us to be sexy bastards but society expects us to exhibit substantial self-restraint.

The result is that everybody lies about sex. If we don't lie about our actual behavior, then we lie about our impulses. There are only two exceptions to this rule -- you and me.

We should be shocked and outraged that Polanski could not control his impulses and would drug and rape a 13-year old. He's a disgusting creep.

Letterman's behavior should not surprise us at all. He's a human.

*I am required at this stage to point out that horniness is not the only characteristic that determines reproductive success. Others, such as attractiveness, intelligence, strength, health, etc, also probably play important roles.

October 21, 2009

People Who Are Talented

There is a lovely and comforting school of thought that says each of us is exceptional at something.

I may be a good dancer, and you are good at making money. Jack over there is good at basketball, and Susie is a great cook. We each have a high degree of talent at something and the trick is to find what that something is.

I have found this to be an innocent and sometimes infantile point of view.

It has been my experience that Uncle God is extraordinarily unfair in his gift-giving.

On Christmas morning, some of us get a roomful of beautifully wrapped packages and some of us get a big bag of shit.

It is very unusual to find someone who is exceptional at something who isn't also very good at other things. It is also frequently the case that people we think of as mediocre are mediocre in many annoying ways.

Of course, there are instances of math whizzes who can't figure out how to brush their teeth. However, in general I have found that "talent" is not necessarily category-specific and is often applicable over a range of endeavors -- some of which are related, some of which are not.

Musicians tend to be funny. Funny people tend to be intelligent. Good basketball players tend to be good at baseball. Really smart people tend to be good at lots of things.

Now, you are thinking, what in the world does this have to do with advertising?

There is a school of thought that good creative agencies tend to be not so good at business strategy. Or media strategy. Or any of the more "business-like" aspects of marketing. Once again, I have found the opposite to be true. Agencies that produce good creative work also tend to be good at all aspects of the business. Those that are mediocre, tend to be mediocre across the board.

This also is true of individuals within agencies. The best creative people also tend to have very good business instincts and a highly evolved understanding of strategy. They are often better at sales than most account people.

Talented people tend to be talented in lots of ways. It ain't fair, but it's true.

October 19, 2009

The Perfect Client Brief

Courtesy of Kirk Citron via Swiss Miss.
Perhaps, the perfect client brief.
The client: Mick Jagger. The "agency": Andy Warhol

October 12, 2009

The Handsomest Man In The World

That's me. The handsomest.

What? You don't believe me?

I have affidavits from my mother, my wife, and several of my employees.

I have awards from the American Association of Old Fat Bald Guys.

What? You still don't believe? You think I'm lying?

Okay, maybe I'm not really the handsomest. Maybe I'm just trying to make a point.

The point is this. You would think that one of the first things people trained in advertising would learn is that what you say can be very different from what you communicate.

I can walk into a room and say, “I am the handsomest man in the world.” What I am communicating, however, is “I am a great big fucking jerk.”

Not one person in the room will believe that I am the handsomest man in the world, and everyone in the room will believe I am a jerk.

When you say something that no one believes, you are not only wasting your money, you are undermining your credibility. And all the spurious "support points" in the world don't make absurd claims any more believable.

Yet advertisers continue to ignore the distinction between what they are saying and what they are communicating.

Stereo retailers continue to talk about their “great customer service.” Big banks continue to talk about the importance of “relationships.” Computer peripheral manufacturers continue to talk about "plug and play."

All they are communicating is that they are bullshit artists who can't be trusted.

Last week in "A Perfectly Balanced Narcissism" I said, "...what social media is primarily about is narcissism." I suggest you check this out. It's almost to good to be true. Thanks to Ray Lam.

Psychiatric Update...
According to his lawyer, Roman Polanski -- the creep who drugged and raped a 13-year-old and then fled the country to avoid punishment and has now spent two weeks in jail-- is feeling depressed.

October 07, 2009

Nothing To Sell But Uncertainty

It's embarrassing to be in the ad business these days.

Ad agencies don't know what they believe.

In reaction to the dual onslaughts of the web and the recession, they have abandoned all principles.

They go on and on about "the shifting nature of consumer behavior" and the need to "change the model."

Change it to what?

What's the role of advertising?

Foolish clients can't see through the subterfuge. They can't recognize that most agencies are lost at sea -- spouting cliches and trying to stampede them by frightening them.

Agencies are holding on for dear life by leveraging uncertainty.

October 06, 2009

Annals Of Marketing

Montblanc, the Swiss penmaker, has introduced a fountain pen to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi.

The limited edition pen has an 18-carat solid gold, rhodium plated (whatever the hell that is) nib and is engraved with Gandhi's image.

It sells for about $25,000.

Montblanc's chief knucklehead in India said that the pen embodies Gandhi's "timeless philosophy of non-violence and respect for all living creatures." Yeah, right.

What it actually embodies is the timeless, relentless greed and crassness of marketers.

Mr. Amit Modi, secretary of the Gandhi Ashram said, "If he had seen this he would have thrown it away."

October 05, 2009

October 02, 2009

The Fool

There's no bigger fool than the one who lives only in the present.

The one who thinks that what he sees is all there is.

The one who doesn't know where the present came from, and concomitantly, has no idea where it's going.

The one who can only see what's in front of him and what's coming at him.

The great pleasure of knowing something is appreciating where it fits. If you don't, you don't really know it. You may recognize it, but you don't understand it.

Being "in the present" is one of the most misguided of all conceits. The present is only a piece of the thread.

The only way to be intelligent is to see the whole ribbon.

...for all the nice comments while I was screwing off last month. The fact that I didn't reply doesn't mean I didn't appreciate them, it just means I was trying to keep my attention away from the blog. I will continue to post but not as frequently. Also, I'm going to write about stuff other than advertising. But -- I promise -- not always as pompous as that stuff today. Also, I'm working on a new book so start saving your pennies.

October 01, 2009

A Perfectly Balanced Narcissism

There was a time when a public display of narcissism was available to only the few: the talented, the beautiful, or the wealthy.

You couldn't get a book published unless you had something interesting to say. You couldn't get your picture on a screen unless you were stunning to look at. You couldn't force your way into the public consciousness unless you had money to burn.

Now, the seductive appeal of narcissistic self-absorption has been democratized. It is open to everyone. You don't need to be anything special. All you need is an internet service provider.

Let's put aside for a moment the fancy words and high-minded theories of media experts and ask ourselves this question: what is social media really about?

Is it really about connecting with friends? Is it really about conversations? I'm officially skeptical.

It seems to me that what social media is primarily about is narcissism. For the first time in human history, we each have what only the tiniest segment of the population once had -- the potential to be known by virtually everyone on the planet. And best of all, we don't to have to accomplish anything to do it.

It started with websites. You could put up your own site and become instantly accessible around the world. The problem with websites, though, was they were difficult to produce and boring as shit.

Then came blogs and podcasts. They were a narcissist's dream. You could express all your brilliant opinions for the world to hear. The drawback, however, was that they required work and no one paid any attention.

Then came the real breakthroughs -- MySpace and Facebook. These babies didn't bother pretending they were about anything other than narcissism. They were about "your space" and "your face."

Finally came Twitter. What made Twitter irresistible was that you didn't have to wait for people to find your "space" or your "face" -- you could broadcast your wonderfulness.

The idea that social media is about connections is marvelous camouflage. It gives us a lovely, feasible means for disguising the truth.

Social media has created a perfectly balanced currency for narcissism. I'll friend you, you friend me. I'll pretend to be interested in your life. You pretend to be interested in mine.