March 29, 2013

Graduation Day

Today is my last official day in the agency business.

I'll sign some papers, de-commission my laptop (whatever the hell that means) and say goodbye to the agency I helped found over 20 years ago.

It's supposed to be a bittersweet occasion. But it's not. It's easy. The art of advertising is still interesting, but the agency business has lost its appeal.

While I do a lot of railing about brand babble and digital stupidity, they are not the big problem. The big problem is consolidation.

Like so much of life in America these days, what used to be an industry lead by craftspeople is now something very different. Much of the industry is in the hands of a few investors and financiers who know nothing about making ads. They know about making money.

Sadly, their influence is felt everywhere. Like them, we have become obsessed with numbers and desensitized to artistry. As a former science teacher, I understand the appeal of data. But I've exhausted my energy for explaining to people who don't understand science how misleading most of the data we collect are and how often that data is misinterpreted.

Advertising has become tough for the craftspeople. They have no ammunition in the face of the onslaught of the philistines. There is a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction. There have always been unhappy ad people, but today discontent among our most important element is dangerously pervasive.

I am not foolish enough to fight the march of "progress." I know reality when I see it, and I understand that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. But that doesn't mean I have to like it or approve of it.

Personally, I'm not complaining. The ad business owes me nothing. I've had a very satisfying and rewarding career. I've gone way further than a C student has any right to go.

I've had the great good fortune to help create two successful independent agencies and, most importantly, I've had a hand in providing a livelihood for a few hundred good people and their families. I'm proud of this.

I'm not through with advertising yet. But I have had enough of the agency business.

March 27, 2013

Coca-Cola: Fizzy Goes Fuzzy

Coca-Cola got all tangled up in its underwear last week.

At a marketing research whack-a-thon their senior manager for marketing strategy came out and said the unthinkable -- social media marketing is a big fat waste of time and money.

Well, he didn't actually use those words. What he said was...
"We didn't see any statistically significant relationship between our buzz and our short-term sales."
That's how senior marketing managers talk.

So, hang on a minute. You mean "tweets" and "likes" don't create sales? Get outta here!

Naturally, this got legions of social media maniacs and brain-dead CMOs all woozy and hyperventilating.

It didn't take long for Coke to start mitigating and weasel-wording. Pretty soon their Senior VP-Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities (how's that for a title?) started churning out a lot of flapdoodle about closed loops, content, beta tests, multi-screens, and journeys. Read her comments and you will see a perfect example of the 6th stage of The 6 Stages of Digital Delusion.
6. The Back-Pedaling Begins: "Well, it's just part of an integrated program..." say the former zealots...
Hey, you gotta defend your job, right? Especially when you're the number one brand on Facebook and it's buying you exactly nothing.

Now, far be it from me to defend social media marketing, but here at The Ad Contrarian global headquarters our watchword is fairness. So let's be fair to social media here.

First of all, the research that this hubbub is based on is a joke. In the advertising world research is like creative work. Some of it is terrific and some of it is worthless. I have no idea how this research was conducted or who did it, but based on the findings I have to conclude that it is not just worthless, it's actually harmful.

According to Ad Age, Coke's research drew the following conclusions:
  • Display was 90% as effective as TV
  • Search and outdoor were equally effective
  • Radio was more effective than search or outdoor
  • Social media's effect on sales was as close to invisible as you can get -- one one-hundredth of one percent.
  • Print was the most effective medium
You can get a glimpse of how rigorously scientific this study was from this -- these bozos can't even figure out if a social media comment is positive or negative.
"One problem Coca-Cola has is determining whether buzz is actually positive or negative in the first place. In one 2010 study where Coke pulled out more than 1,000 social-media messages randomly and had human raters compare them to automated sentiment analysis by one vendor, there were widespread differences."

" 'When we say it's positive, the machine about 21% of the time says it's negative' "
Machines? We now have machines doing research? Humans aren't dumb enough?

Second, the key to all this nonsense is one phrase -- "short-term sales." This research was only measuring short-term sales. If there is one company in the fucking world that should understand that you can't measure advertising effectiveness by short-term results it's Coca-Cola.

As I said in a post called Advertising Is Like Exercise last month...
Why do you think a can of Coca-Cola is worth 50¢ more than a can of Safeway cola? It's not because of the Coke ad you saw last night or last week. It's the ones you've seen for your entire life.
Not only is online advertising an enormously out-of-proportion distraction to most marketers and a black-hole for advertising dollars, it is also engendering a way of thinking about advertising that is ignorant and is harmful to the long-term health of brands.

March 25, 2013

The Cheats vs The Morons

I have to admit that I get a great deal of deliciously perverse pleasure from reading reports that online ad hustlers are picking the pockets of marketing morons and their clueless but oh-so-fashionable agencies.

Apparently there's a lot of hanky-panky going on in the "murky" world of online ad exchanges. An article in Adweek last week had this to say...
"Indeed, while the Web has never been short of tricksters...a new breed of cheat is fast becoming a plague in the exchange world: the ghost publisher...very little of these sites' audiences are real people. Yet big name advertisers are spending millions trying to reach engaged users on these properties."
How wonderfully delicious is that? Here are some examples they give:

There is a site called Sounds fascinating doesn't it? It's part of a group that also includes No, I'm not kidding.

According to Adweek, these sites "typically offer 20 million to 25 million impressions via ad exchanges." Yeah, sounds about right to me. Who wouldn't want to read about tooth brushing or baby powder? But that doesn't stop dimwit advertisers like Mercedes and JetBlue from winding up on these sites.

Adweek quotes one online buyer.
"These sites have hundreds of millions of bogus impressions, and those illegitimate sites are regularly in the top 10 by volume for major SSP's,"
Another example they give is a company called Alphabird:
"Alphabird's properties are consistently among the top suppliers of inventory within exchanges and SSPs...according to multiple sources, a large number of Alphabird's sites are rife with traffic produced by bots... In fact, among the Alphabird sites frequented by bots rather than people, 75 percent of the audience is overlaps. In other words, a huge proportion of the audience for also visits"
Yup. I know the first thing I do after reading football news is click around to get some fashion updates. Major advertisers on Alphabird sites include Budget, BMW, Virgin, JetBlue, and Pillsbury.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit here that I don't know a damn thing about ad exchanges, bogus or otherwise. I'm just taking Adweek's word for all this. As for the sites in question, they claim that they are not the source of all the phony traffic and, in fact, they are the victims here. Color me officially skeptical.

Either way, it is very satisfying to meditate on the knowledge that someone is screwing the gullible chuckleheads who, driven by agency nitwits, dive willy-nilly into the hideous joke that is online advertising.

Adweek sums it up well:
" might come away wondering why any major brand even bothers with online advertising.
Not only are banners dull and clickthrough rates low, but all the technology flooding the industry promising perfect targeting perfection can't even deliver real human audiences much of the time."
Hmmm, I seem to recall reading exactly that sentiment somewhere around here for the last five years.

March 21, 2013

Advertising Needs Old People

From The Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2013
According to the local mining lore here, senior geologists tend to do their work the old-fashioned way. They avoid radar technology, preferring instead to examine termite and ant mounds...They're famous in the often cutthroat industry for their efficiency.

"I only hire old geologists," says Norman Slater, managing director of Slater Coal,.... People such as Kevin Petzer, a 65-year-old Zimbabwean who still roams South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia from his base in the KwaZulu-Natal province in eastern South Africa. Mr. Petzer, who emphasizes that he also has mastered conventional scientific methods, studies ant heaps, fossilized worm-burrows and flowers...

Mining executives say that while they chuckle about the quirks of older geologists, they recognize the business value of their memory of previous exploratory work, their grasp of complex rock formations and their discipline in knowing how to meticulously chart new territory. 
Advertising has too many people who know radar technology and not enough people who have examined ant mounds and fossilized worm-borrows.

The result is that agencies are long on ideas and enthusiasm, and short on knowledge and wisdom.

The average young account planner or copywriter is very far from the selling process. She has no idea what it is like on the showroom floor selling a truck. Or on the road selling copier machines.

She thinks that cleverness and audacity are what consumers are interested in. She doesn't understand that advertising is just selling at a distance.

She believes in "conversations" and  "communities" and "relationships" and whatever other fuzzy notions happen to be fashionable this year. She accepts conventional thinking -- regardless of how unproven or callow the prevailing conventions are. She lacks the skepticism that experience engenders.

I don't. I'm old. I've been around. I've seen what works and what doesn't work. I've heard all the cliches and I've seen all the miracle cures. I've taken the time to follow up on them and see how and if they align with reality.

I have worked in agencies for 40 years. I have worked with young people and old people. Now that I'm leaving the agency business, I can tell you the truth: There are plenty of stupid old people, and plenty of smart young people. But on the whole, older people understand advertising better than young people.

Young people are certainly in closer touch with pop culture. And if you think pop culture is what advertising is about, then have at it.

In a society in which half of consumer spending is done by people over 50; in which 75% of financial assets are controlled by people over 50; in which 62% of all new cars are bought by people over 50; in which 94% of all CPG categories are dominated by people over 50, the fact that the average agency has almost no one of this age is incomprehensible.

It is a testament to narcissism, delusion, prejudice and stupidity.

March 19, 2013

Sneaky Little Bastards

For years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here at Ad Contrarian World Headquarters has been determined to expose the unreliable nature of most of what you read about digital advertising. There are three reasons for this:
1. The digital industry is full of sneaky little bastards whose "facts" and "data" usually turn out to be either intentionally misleading, willfully incomplete, or stone cold bullshit.
2. The research industry, heavily dependent on the digital ad industry for business, is complicit and almost always spins its findings about digital in the most positive light. 
3. The pitiful trade press -- devoid of perspective or skepticism -- swallows this garbage whole and publishes it with a tone of gee-whiz boosterism that would embarrass a high school newspaper editor.
Which brings me to last week. My life is so empty and pathetic that I was actually reading Ad Age one night.

I came upon an article concerning the remarkable effectiveness of digital ads in magazine tablet editions. Here's what I read:
Starch Digital used online surveys to measure consumer recall of more than 13,000 ads in magazine tablet editions during the second half of 2012. We found that nearly 9,500 of those ads offered interactive features -- and that half of the people surveyed who read or noted those ads went ahead and interacted in some way.
I was amazed. I know that fewer than one person in a thousand interacts with display advertising in general. And yet, here we have a report of half the people interacting.

Soon I turned out the light and went to sleep. Except I couldn't sleep. My experience in advertising told me this report was highly unlikely. My experience as a former science teacher told me it was completely impossible.

I laid there for at least twenty minutes thinking. And then it struck me. I turned the light back on and re-read the piece. And there it was. To a casual, unsuspecting reader the impression was that half the people interacted with the ads. But what it actually said was that "half of the people surveyed who read or noted those ads went ahead and interacted in some way."

In other words, you had to either read the ad or "note" it (I think that means remember seeing it) to be counted. So if only 3% of people read or noted it, then the true level of interaction was not 50%, but 50% of 3%, or 1.5%.

Of course, neither Starch nor Ad Age told us what percent of people "read or noted" the ads because that would be way too open and honest. So we have no way to know the true level of interaction.

All we know is that, according to Starch...
...large numbers of consumers...interacted with ads for gas and oil drilling investments, a book about Proust, a store catering solely to runners and walkers, and exercises to improve one's golf game. 
Really? If that's the case, why don't you give us all the information so we can decide for ourselves whether the nembers are "large" or not?

But here's the thing. Even if they did give us the full picture it would still be meaningless. Their definitions were so absurdly biased in favor of "interaction" that the numbers mean nothing .

For example, some of the ads were video ads that started up automatically. By sitting there and doing nothing, you were counted as interacting when the video started on its own.

Some of the ads were very small and were essentially unreadable unless you expanded the ad. And once you expanded it, you were automatically counted as interacting. So the act of reading became de facto interaction. For people who expanded the ads to read them, there was no difference between reading the ad and interacting with it. When Ad Age said...
...half of the people surveyed who read or noted those ads went ahead and interacted in some way...
they had not done their homework. A great many of the people who expanded the ad to read it didn't "go ahead and interact in some way."  But they were counted as interacting. And get this --  of the people who were counted as interacting, the largest group was the group that just clicked or touched the ad to expand it.

Hey, Starch, here's an idea. Why not count clicking the "X" to get rid of the ad as an interaction? That should make your masters happy.

But wait, there's even more. Who was sampled to determine these numbers? According to the article, it was an "online" sample. And we know how online samples skew, don't we?

But wait, there's even morer.

Being fascinated by this exercise in deceptive nonsense, I went to Starch's PR release about this study to see what they had to say. Here's what I found...
More than half of consumers who read a magazine ad on their tablet or e-reader interacted with the ad, according to new research covering more than 30,000 digital ads across 1,000 magazine issues from GfK MRI Starch Digital.

The research shows that 55% of digital magazine readers “noted,” or read, a digital advertisement on their tablet or e-reader...
What's your take-away from this? If you are not thinking like a sneaky little bastard, one of your take-aways is probably that people read 55% of the digital magazine ads they were exposed to.

But that's not what it means at all.

What the language actually means is that during the 6-month test period, 55% of people ever read or noted a digital magazine ad. In other words, if you were exposed to 1,000 digital magazine ads during this 6-month period, it doesn't mean you read 550 (55%) of them, it means there's a 55% chance you read one of them!  

In my hundreds of years in the ad business I have witnessed more bullshit than I care to admit. But I've never experienced a more persistent and unrelenting effort to distort and mislead than I have seen from the digital advertising industry and its unprincipled lap dogs.

March 18, 2013

Twitter And Reality

"Twitter is the new AP, I like to say, a place where journalists often break news, even before feeding it to their employers." Howard Kurtz - CNN Opinion

"...the number of Washington and New York journalists now using Twitter... is increasing exponentially." Toby Harndon - The Telegraph
One of the startling things about Twitter is not that average idiots like you and me use it, but that serious people use it -- and take it seriously.

For some reason, this seems to be particularly true in journalism where Twittermania seems to be epidemic.

One of the arguments made in defense of Twitter as a legitimate journalistic tool is that by following Twitter you can get a good idea of what the common folk and your peers are thinking and saying. The thought is that Twitter is a reliable reflection of popular sentiment.

Not so, says to the Pew Research Center. According to a year-long study they did...
"The reaction on Twitter to major political events and policy decisions often differs a great deal from public opinion... At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative."
Why are Twitter reactions and Twitter trending not good indications of true public sentiment? According to Pew...
  • just 13% of adults said they ever use Twitter or read Twitter messages
  • only 3% said they regularly or sometimes tweet or retweet news or news headlines on Twitter.
  • Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public. 
  • Twitter users are more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party.
Some examples of how Twitter sentiment is often way out of line with public sentiment:
  • While  48% of public opinion was positive on Obama's second inaugural speech, only 13% of Twitter sentiment was positive.
  • On the other hand, while 52% of the public was positive about Obama's election, 77% of Twitter reaction was positive.
  • In the first presidential debate, while only 20% of the public thought Obama did a better job than Romney, 59% of tweets thought he did.
  • Obama's State of the Union address in January was viewed positively by 42% of the public. But only 21% of tweets were positive.
Twitter is a very unreliable gauge of public sentiment. When you hear pundits bloviating about how it is representative of this or that, pay no attention.

Twitter is a fun way for morons like us to share inanities about our pathetic lives. Nothing more and nothing less.

March 14, 2013

Janet Warren Likes Walmart

Janet Warren was one one of those impossibly wonderful girls.

Not just pretty, not just smart, but nice and pleasant and friendly. Often her father would have letters to the editor published in The New York Times. She was a cheerleader with actual cheer.

Naturally, she had no idea I existed. But she lived in the next building, and her sister was friendly with my sister.

I was in Los Angeles once, years after high school, and I saw her in a popular restaurant. She was with a group of obviously high-performance individuals, and she was the star of the crowd. I studied her from across the room. She was in her early 30's and had an ethereal almost-hippie, almost-executive look and manner. I found out, years later, that she had been the producer of some pretty important movies.

Years passed and as circumstances sometimes unfold, I had occasion to have lunch with her. I explained to her who I was, and of course, she didn't remember me. She was still lovely in that way that women over 50 can be lovely if they dress simply and tastefully and don't have surgery and don't try to be 20.

She had adopted a child. She was active in many organizations that worked for social justice. She was no longer an active producer, but still had great poise and presence.

We exchanged a few emails following our lunch. I wanted to become friends, but after a while she gracefully stopped emailing, saying she was too busy. I knew what that meant. Several months later I was surprised when she friended me on Facebook.

Lately, on my Facebook page, I find ads that tell me that "Janet Warren Likes Walmart."

If there is one thing that I would bet my house on, it is this -- Janet Warren does not like Walmart. In fact, I would bet she has never set foot in a Walmart. I'd bet that if she knew Walmart was using her to sell their wares, she'd be horrified.

But that's what Facebook does. It uses you, without your specific permission, to create advertising for its clients. You are the leverage. It's not like a testimonial in any other medium where they need a signed release to use your name and likeness. Facebook has rigged the system so that if you are somehow connected to someone who said something about Walmart and you happened to "like" what they said, well then as far as Facebook is concerned you like Walmart. And if their algorithm likes you, then you are now the new spokesperson for Walmart. Congratulations.

This is not healthy. It is uber-false advertising. It is not ethical. Our billionaire friends in the tech industry try to pass themselves off as high-minded visionaries. In fact they are turning out to be corrupt and unconcerned about our rights and privacy.

Janet Warren does not like Walmart. But Faceberg is trying to build an unscrupulous empire by claiming that she does.

March 13, 2013

Exit Interview With Pope Benedict XVI

As you may have heard, there is an election going on at the Vatican. In 1268, electing a new Pope took over 2 years (that was before touch-screen voting.)

In order to keep my readers fully informed I recently traveled to Castel Gandolfo where I had an exit interview with newly retired Pope Benedict XVI (Roman numerals can only be used by Popes and Super Bowls. Look it up.)

Pope Benedict (real name: Joseph Ratzinger) turned out to be a totally cool guy and was really into the exit interview thing. Here’s a quick recap:
  • Likes to be called:  Ben; Benny
  • Didn’t like to be called: Your Total Popeness; JoeyRats; Ratzo 
  • Best thing about being Pope: "I love working with people. And God." 
  • Worst thing: Writing annual performance reviews for the Cardinals
  • Most proud of:  The kitchen remodel in the Papal apartments
  • Biggest mistake: Should have taken the Ravens and points
  • Future of the Church: "One word -- mobile"
  • Core competencies for next Pope:  1) sense of humor 2) should know some html 3) "believe it or not, it's a big plus if he can make a killer lasagna."
  • Favorite singer: Wilson Pickett 
  • Favorite band: Abba 
  • Favorite app: Papal (I think he meant PayPal -- TAC)
  • If he wasn't Pope: "I don't know, maybe dentist or copywriter." 
  • Wishes he had more time for: Working out
  • Best subject in seminary: Heresy In Twentieth Century Cinema
  • Worst subject: Algebra ("Quadratic equations? Like I'm gonna use that?")
  • Favorite TV program: Antiques Roadshow
  • Favorite movie: Anything with Jonah Hill
  • Likes to: Slow dance 
  • Pet peeve: Vatican internet “crazy slow.”

March 11, 2013

Whatever Happened To Perspective?

Whatever happened to perspective?

There is so much bullshit-masquerading-as-information floating around that it has become impossible to get anyone's attention unless you take every little thing that happens and go hysterical about it.

Every petty fact or trend has to be embellished, embroidered, or exaggerated or no one will notice.

If unemployment goes up 1/10 of a percent, we hear that this is "the highest unemployment rate since December."


That was 3 FUCKING MONTHS AGO! Is that supposed to be some kind of historic development?

If a baseball player suddenly gets hot, we hear that he has an 8-game "hitting streak."


DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games. Let me know when this guy gets to 35 and we'll talk.
Several months ago I read a headline in The Wall Street Journal, "IPO Drought Hits U.S. After Facebook Debacle." Here was the drought...
"...the IPO market has officially dried up. The U.S. has gone three weeks without an initial public offering." 
THREE WEEKS! Oh my fucking god! Not only that, it's...
"...the longest drought in about five months." 
FIVE MONTHS! Holy shit! Pack the car we're moving to Canada.

One question: Exactly how many "droughts" can you have in five months? Doesn't a drought take some time? Just because you spill some fucking water doesn't mean there's a drought.

We are living in the golden age of bullshit and the thing that is driving all this bullshit is "communication."  There is way too much communication. It's making us all stupid and hysterical.

We're tweeting and posting and updating and taking the most trivial nonsense and elevating it to "news" and "stories" and "conversations." It's not "news" or "stories" or "conversations." It's bullshit.

Would everyone please just shut the fuck up?

March 08, 2013

Friday Fun Fest

People - 38,765, Comments - 0
Adweek publishes a pretty good blog called AdFreak. I read it sometimes. I was reading an interesting post there the other day and I noticed something.

There were 38,765 people who "liked" the blog on Facebook. And not a single comment on the post. 

Can someone please explain this "engagement" thing to me again?

This Week's Fun Couple
Yesterday, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stated that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who died on Tuesday, would be resurrected along with Jesus.

Also this week, Kim Jong Un's foreign minister said North Korea was planning a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the U.S.

I'm starting to think these guys are a little kooky.

Where Are The Guitar Picks?
I buy them by the dozen and lose them by the score.

In my life I have lost at least a thousand. I figure I am about average stupid. If there are a million guitar players like me in the world (it seems there at least a million just on YouTube), that means there are a billion guitar picks that have gone missing.

Where are they? They have to be somewhere. How do you hide a billion guitar picks?

I want answers.

Interview With A Quitter
I've been asked a lot of questions since I announced I would be leaving my agency last week. To avoid having to answer them too many more times, here are the most common questions I've been asked and my answers. 

Q: Why are you leaving the agency?
A: I'm bored. After a while, a large part of being a ceo becomes ceremonial. I'm not good at it or interested in it.

Q: What are you going to do?
A: Don't know. I'll definitely continue writing and speaking about advertising. There's about a 50% chance I'll do something new and small in the ad/marketing world. Another 25% likelihood I'll try some other business. And about a 25% chance I'll retire. I have some options and I'm in no rush to decide.

Q: When did you decide to leave?
A: Five years ago. I started selling my interest in the company to my partners in 2007. The plan was for me to leave at the beginning of 2012, but business was lousy and I didn't feel comfortable doing it. Our business is excellent now and I feel a lot better about leaving.

Q: What's the hardest part about leaving?
A: Don't know. I'm sure I will find out over time. Right now I am excited, which is a nice new feeling for a cranky guy. Boredom is for young people. I'm too old to be bored. 

Q: Are you available for consulting and, if so, how can we reach you?
A: Yes, after April 1. You can contact me now at 

Q: What's the biggest problem in the ad business?
A: By far, the biggest problem is consolidation. We used to be an industry of mainly small businesses run by craftspeople and entrepreneurs. We are now an industry of huge enterprises run by financial guys. It has changed everything, mostly for the worse.

Q: What are you most proud of?
A: I'm most proud that I was able to help create jobs and a little bit of prosperity for a group of nice people and their families. I am also proud of this blog and the books. And, of course, my Noble Prize.

Q: Are you going to keep writing the blog?
A: Yes.

Q: What advice do you have for people in the ad business?
A: Save your money.

And Finally...
Ad Contras are the best. I've received a lot of very nice emails from people over the past week. Thank you. It was unexpected and much appreciated. If I were a different kind of person I might even say I was touched. I am planning to respond to each personally. Please be patient. I am way behind but will try to get them all answered this weekend.

March 06, 2013

A Note From A Friend

For all my whining and complaining, I have to admit that I've met some of my favorite people in the world in advertising. I have received a lot of very nice messages since I announced I was leaving my agency last week. This is one of my favorites. It makes me proud. It came from Jason Headley, a great writer -- I mean a real writer, as in novels, essays and screenplays -- director, and terrific person. I asked him if I could publish it and he agreed, Here it is.


For a guy who had all of his emotions removed in 1997, I had an oddly emotional reaction to reading this. Apparently, I'm going to have to go in for a clean up.

I know I've told you this story once before, but it's worth putting in writing. When I first moved to California with nothing more than a science degree, a guitar, and a dream, I answered a newspaper ad that said, "Sales & Marketing Position: No Experience Necessary." Certain I was still somehow under-qualified, I called. The next day I was driving around the city with a guy who was a door-to-door liar. He had a bunch of shitty art prints in the trunk of his car (the kind that have a giant, white border around them with "Picasso" or whatever written at the bottom). He was going into random offices and telling people that they were leftover from a remodel down the street, that they'd ended up with too many prints and his boss told him to just go unload them at cost. We did this all day. It was embarrassing. I was more embarrassed when someone actually bought one. I was twenty-two and fresh off the turnip truck and I knew better.

I saw a lot of offices that day. Legal offices, dentist offices, insurance offices, just plain old run-of-the-mill office offices. Then we walked into an office that actually looked pretty lively. It was light, airy, colorful. There were young people walking around. Maybe even a pretty girl or two. While my guide for the day was trying to sell framed snake oil to your office manager, I asked the girl at the front desk, "What do you guys do here?" And she said, "We're an advertising agency."

It was Hoffman/Lewis.

I went home that night and reworked my "resume" to make it look like I knew anything about anything having remotely to do with advertising. Then I got a phone book, looked up every ad agency in the city, and got to faxing. I sent that sad slip of paper to everyone in town. Two people called me in for interviews. One place offered me a job as an Account Coordinator. The other offered me a job as the mail boy. After hearing about the details and responsibilities of each position, I chose the mail boy job. I had some dignity, after all.

But that was it. I was in advertising. And while I didn't get an offer from Hoffman/Lewis in that first go-round, I still owe/blame you to this day for my career.

Years later when I started freelancing for you guys, it was pretty special to me. And when you and Sharon offered to bring me on, it was terribly flattering. I walk in and out of a lot of different buildings in this town, but your agency was one of the few where I truly felt welcome and comfortable. As close to a home as I had. I meet a lot of people with a lot of opinions in this business, but yours was always one I respected and considered fully and completely. I always appreciated when you made my work better. I was always proud when you saw my side of things. And I always liked that we could occasionally view things differently but still view each other the same. That's a good way to go about it.

I don't know what Hoffman/Lewis will be to me now that you're leaving and Sharon's gone and Jimmy's gone. It was a great port in an often tumultuous storm out there. I will miss that.

I hope you'll still find the time for a big, boozy lunch with me now and again. If nothing else, it's a fun thing to get to put on our calendars.

Until then.


March 04, 2013

What's Everyone So Afraid Of?

I am sometimes approached by editors of advertising or media publications to write pieces for them. In the course of trying to convince me to contribute tendentious pieces to their publications (and not get paid), invariably the following sentence is uttered:

"We're so tired of all the bullshit"

Often when I attend a conference and one of those gee-whiz presentations about the latest online advertising magic is made, people will later approach me at the bar and whisper "what a bunch of bullshit." (By the way, I'm at the bar because that's where they keep the pretzels.)

One recent morning I was having coffee with a person who manages media and marketing conferences and he told me that the biggest problem he has in creating interesting programs is that every presenter wants to be the futurist guru who talks about whatever the hype-cycle miracle of the week is, and all the other speakers are too chicken to challenge.

What I want to know is, what's everybody in advertising so fucking afraid of? Why won't people say what they really think? Even after 10 years of totally erroneous "everything is dead" nonsense, are we still too timid to defend our business and stand up to these buffoons?

Why do publishers keep publishing "all the bullshit" if they're so tired of it?

Why will people only call bullshit in whispered tones in the dim confines of the hotel bar?

Why won't speakers get up and speak their minds?

There is a kind of creeping, low-grade McCarthyism in the advertising world. Everyone's afraid to challenge the loudmouths. "Thought leaders" go from conference to conference being dead-wrong, and everyone is so terrified of being thought odd or old-fashioned that they refuse to speak up.

The ad industry is becoming stinkier and stinkier. And I don't know what smells worse, the bullshit or the chicken shit.

March 01, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

On April 1, I will be leaving my post as chairman and ceo of Hoffman/Lewis.

After a while, being the oldest living adman on Earth loses its allure. I have recently celebrated my 40th anniversary in the agency business. It’s enough. I'm bored.

When you're young you can make excuses for being bored: you need the money, or it's only temporary, or soon you'll be moving up. At my age there's no excuse. The only explanation is laziness.

Over time, a ceo's responsibilities can become substantially ceremonial. I have no appetite or aptitude for that.

It’s time to reevaluate my professional life -- that’s fancy businessguy code for “do something different.”

I intend to continue writing and speaking and whining about advertising. Maybe do some consulting. Also, I have some new business things I’m kicking around. And I understand there’s an opening at the Vatican. I always wanted a helicopter.

But first I’m going to take some time and wander around aimlessly. It's finally an undertaking I feel I can excel at.

There aren’t too many successful second acts in adland and I’m lucky to have one. This blog and the books it has spawned have made my last six years a lot more interesting and a lot more fun (by the way, if you haven’t bought 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising I can’t guarantee your safety.)

While I’ve always tried to speak the truth on this blog, there has been a certain amount I have had to withhold. Without the livelihoods of others at stake, I now expect the blog will be what it has always been, only with a lot more f-bombs.

Also, I intend to make a few little content tweaks. From now on the blog will be written in Swedish and consist mainly of 30-minute chicken recipes.

Love always…