Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The future isn't what it used to be.

       There's another television show heading our way to keep us in the "Mad Men" mood. It's ABC's new "Pan Am", about Pan American World Airways in 1963.

       It's being sold to advertisers as the first time that television has taken a dead brand and made a regular program about it. Maybe we're about to find out why.

       Pan Am was a big, prominent airline with a magnificent history. Its Clipper flights to South America made it world famous, and its flights to Paris, Rome, Israel and everywhere else made it world-wide. There are plenty of opportunities for drama in the airline industry, of course, and plenty of opportunities for romance with the crew. NBC is playing in the same '60s ballpark this year with its "Playboy Club". 

       Dennis Riney, executive V.P. of Brand Logic, a consultancy in Wilton, Conn., told Advertising Age that "Brands like Pan Am and Playboy are emotional signposts that transport us back to an era when America was number one. Now that we're not even AAA-rated, we long to experience the swagger of the Rat Pack Era and a lusty, boozy lifestyle we used to call class." I'm not sure that's what it is.

       It's good to see old styles and traditional values back in play in good old-fashioned soap operas. It's fun to wonder if we'd be like those people --- or lucky enough to be like them. It's comforting to think of life as a little slower, our needs a little easier to satisfy, our relationships just as involved.

       Of course, life didn't move any slower in those days. Life seemed just as fast, just as hectic, just as hard to get a cab at 5 o'clock.

       We Americans are eternally hopeful and romantic, and love drama, no matter what the latest surveys and  economic data say about our expectations. 

       That's good news for us in the fashion marketing business and us in the advertising business. We know that people are constantly ready for the next new thing, even if it's old. We love to recycle our fantasies, slip away a bit from reality, and dream.

        I was one of the "Mad Men" in Chicago, I belonged to the Playboy Club, I flew on Pan Am. Now I'm ready for the next episode. 



Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting a job was always harder than making the ads.

       One of the cool things about starting in advertising in the days of "Mad Men" is that nobody ever heard of "Mad Men".

       The week I started my first job in Chicago, the agency I was with ran a full-page ad in Advertising Age. The headline read, "It pays to look both ways: Madison Avenue and Michigan Avenue". When you were looking for a job in New York or Chicago, the ad agencies were all on those two streets.

       The first place I applied for a job was a big agency called Needham, Harper and Steers. I sent in a resume and got back a letter from Dick Needham. Boy, they really liked me! When I showed up for the interview, I found out that Dick wasn't the boss, he was the son, and his job was running the training program. He said there were no openings because times were tough. Not even a comment about how they'd keep my resume on file in case something came up.

       The next place down the Avenue was the Leo Burnett Company, the largest ad agency in Chicago. I called and got an appointment with the personnel manager. (Humans were personnel back then, and apparently didn't want relations.) The personnel manager was very dapper, very polite. He spent a full 15 minutes with me, handed me an apple, and walked me to the elevators. (He handed me an apple because every visitor to Burnett gets an apple. When the agency started in the Depression, Leo was told he'd be selling apples on the street in two weeks. Today, they give away tons every year.)

       At the elevators, Mr. Personnel gave me this advice: "Kid, pick another line of work. You're not cut out for advertising." Semi-crushed, I threw away the apple the minute the elevator got to the lobby. But I learned something important. Never go to the personnel department when you're looking for a creative job. Go right to the creative director or his assistant.

       I crossed the street to the London Guarantee Building and went up to ask my Uncle Ed for a job at his ad agency. His secretary, Ms. Frazier, said he was busy. In a few minutes he came out and said, "I can't see you now, Harvey. We do so much of our business by appointment these days."

      I called and met with Ed the next week, and he gave me a job at $400 a week --- if I did okay on the Myers-Briggs personality test.  I probably flunked the test because I heard mumbling about how they better let me stay because I was the boss' nephew. I assume that after going over my test, Mr. Myers would no longer be speaking to Mr. Briggs.

      That's okay, I was hired. On my first day, Bob, the executive art director, asked me to write a headline for his visual of a hand pouring a bottle of Wish-Bone Salad Dressing into an empty crystal carafe. I blurted out "Lie to Your Friends". He loved it, he used it, and I was a keeper.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Sex and the single ad.

       Every time I critique a fashion ad that has nothing going for it except a beautiful model in beautiful clothes, someone in my class blurts out, "sex sells!". And I see a lot of nods.

       I ask them what, exactly, does sex sell? Followed by, and who does it sell it to?

       The first thing that comes to my mind are those calendars on the wall in the auto repair shop. They're usually the voluptuous-model-of-the-month with some snappy slogan about shock absorbers or ball joints. Do you think the mechanic orders a brand of ball joints simply on the basis of the model for October? I grant you the calendar went up because of the model, but the car parts?

       A sort of kissing cousin to those calendars are the ads for Guess. They always seem to feature the last girl in the world you'd introduce your boyfriend to. Do you wear Guess? How come? I thought sex sells? Why don't all ads use sex as the main motivator --- do you know something they don't?

       Another question: are Bebe ads as sexy as Guess? Which sells more? Is it in proportion to their sexiness? If sex sells, one might hypothesize that the most sex would sell the most. Why, pornography would empty the whole warehouse!

      There have been studies on the subject of sex in ads, and in general, its effectiveness is relative to the product's appropriateness to sexiness. Perfume is often worn to attract a potential mate, so it's relevant when that is the goal. I'm not sure anyone wants sexy windshield wipers.

      Here's what I believe marketers should think about:

      1. Beautiful people attract attention. No doubt about it; we want to know them and be more like them.

      2. Sexiness attracts attention, and provokes a response. The response may be positive or negative for the advertiser depending on the appropriateness of the sexuality in the ad.

      3, If people want to buy a product to make them more sexy, advertising and promotions can help them pre-experience that. Victoria's Secret does that very well.

      4. We often need a rational basis for buying something in that category. Victoria's Secret tells you  about the design, and how it results in more comfort.

       In short, sex does help sell some people on some things. But it's not the answer to everything, and in most cases it may be the wrong answer.

       Perhaps we should also know who's designing and photographing all these fashion ads. Does their attempt at sexuality appeal to men or women?

       Finally, we should keep in mind that we don't want customers to just have a weekend romance with our products, or just take them to a movie now and then. We want our customers to marry them and live happily ever after.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The bunny I was on thin ice with.

       The headline read "The Bunny Is Back". It was about the new NBC television show, "The Playboy Club." I knew it well.

       When the Playboy Club in Chicago first opened, it cost $25 to join. I joined because they gave you a beautiful bunny-like key that opened the club's front door. I soon showed up with a date I was trying to impress. There at the door when I opened it was a statuesque blonde, in her blue satin ears and a bundle of white yarn pinned on as a tail. There was a name tag pinned on her shiny blue tunic.

       The bunny got all smiley and said "Harvey, Harvey! It's me, Linda." I looked down at her name tag and indeed, it said Linda. But Linda who? She continued squealing, "It's me, Linda Dorfman, from elementary school. We were next to each other for years!"

       Being the shy, retiring type, I was mortified. All I could say was, "I didn't recognize you, Linda. You've...grown." This was the Linda Dorfman who I used to go ice skating and have hot cocoa with in Lincoln Park. I hugged her. My date was not impressed.

       The new TV show is no doubt a response to "Mad Men". Those days, so near and yet so far, seem to be endlessly captivating. We've changed so much in in our style, and certainly in our attitudes about women and relationships. Somehow new generations still see themselves in the story, drinking and typing and having a pretty good time getting by.

       It's interesting to me that while computers, smart phones, iPods and iPads seem to have changed everything, television constantly reminds us how much hasn't.

       We're still interested in the same things that all generations have been.  Relationships, intimacy, emotional episodes, values, and lifestyles. As much as we think we're more evolved, it's a good bet we aren't.

      For all of us in marketing (and in many ways we all are),  it's important not to believe we're so sophisticated that we out-fox ourselves into thinking we're more advanced, more enlightened. We're probably not. We're the same as everybody, including our customers.

     Hugh Hefner knows that, which is why his magazine and his vision of the good life still have appeal. As for me, I'd simply like to hug Linda Dorfsman one more time.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

How come you can see it but Sears can't?

        During the last quarter, Sears closed 29 stores and said it saved $48 million. Sales are weak at Sears, and customer traffic is declining. Why can't they stop the bleeding?

        Sears said its revenues are down primarily because of decreases in electronics. C.E.O. Lou D'Ambrosio says they've got great plans for the future, though, with "many innovative" ideas in the appliance area and, of course, a new apparel line from the Kardashian sisters. C'mon, Sears! Open your eyes and smell the coffee!

       Any college student can tell you what's wrong with Sears in a 10-minute walk through any department. The experience isn't very pleasant. The stores just feel cold, hard, and certainly devoid of any sense of theater. Shopping here may save you a few bucks, but even that's no fun. A young person would be hard-pressed to say "This place is for me!"

       The thing I like about Sears is that there's plenty of space in their parking lot. The cars are all huddled by the other stores. On a wet day I just walk through Sears to get to where I really want to go. Good thing I'm not allergic to linoleum.

       In a memo, Mr. D'Ambrosio wrote, "In any journey, there are always highs and lows, and the critics and skeptics will always say what they want to say."

       Maybe Mr. D'Ambrosio should take a journey to a Target store. The contrast is spellbinding. Target was the brainchild of department store people at Dayton-Hudson-Marshall Field's. They know the importance of the experience. The cheerful stores, well-designed merchandise, a surprise at every turn, the contemporary displays, the efficient check-out and customer service departments, the charity and community relationships.

       Target makes Sears look like a museum exhibit of "Yesterday's Department Store". Please don't touch the exhibits. Sears owns Kmart as well, and those stores have their own problems. Certainly no real competition to Walmart, even with their Martha Stewart stuff.

       Sears, of course, has long been famous for their Kenmore appliances, Craftsman tools, Diehard batteries, and their tire and auto centers. When I was in Chicago, I was creative director on a large chunk of the Sears account, but how often would you go to a department store to buy a hammer? Sears is doing okay online, which is probably an extension of the popularity of the old Sears, Roebuck catalog in rural areas.

       Retail isn't what it used to be. Except at Sears.


Friday, August 26, 2011

When the old guard let its guard down.

       In the "Mad Men" days of advertising, there was a silent war going on. Well, not really silent. It was more of a grumbling war.

       The old guard, mostly men toughened by in-fighting, politicking, and long lunches, went by the "rules" of advertising: headlines that name the product and the benefit; copy that explains the features and gives the "reason why"; and a tagline, or slogan, that gives the conclusion you want consumers to reach. According to the old guard, art directors were there to "lay out" the ad, making it attractive.

       That's when I came in, along with other upstarts who read the New Yorker to learn how to write, saw the new kind of ads coming out of the Big Apple, and wanted to join in and do better.

       I remember when my friend Marv was brought into the agency from a greeting card factory. The creative director said, "Fred has been here for years. He's got a big office and I'm putting you in with him for help."  Four months later, Marv went in to talk to the creative director. "Remember four months ago you put me into Fred's office for help? Well, I've given him all the help I can." Marv got his own office, I got promoted, and we were on our way.

       It was just in time. I was tired of account executives telling creative people, "There are no dull products, just dull writers". Tired of being told by art directors, "Just leave it on the corner of my drawing board and I'll do something with it later."

       When I was first made a copy supervisor, the art supervisor was an older guy named Toby. He was a lot of fun, and always had an agency story to disarm my ambition and high spirits. He had been in World War II, and then lived in his car while attending Art Center in Los Angeles on the G.I. Bill. He never wanted to just sit down together with a writer and make an ad --- a new way of working that was making its way west from the Creative Revolution in New York. Every time I'd say, "Toby, we've got a new assignment", he'd simply reach into a pile on his desk and say something like, " I want to use this great illustration of a chicken! Write a headline for it."

       We had only one woman art director in the department in those days. She was always busy on projects that called for the woman's touch. Whatever that meant.  Everyone wanted to work with Barbara, so suddenly every project needed the woman's touch.

        The old guard slowly crumbled. Their lunch hours started to get longer and longer. The list of requirements for creative assignments got shorter and shorter. They started saying things like "do whatever you think", and then retired to talk about the good old days.

        Then again, isn't that what I'm talking about?


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can brands tweet too much?

        The other day a student told me she thought some advertisers are overdoing it with social media. Every morning at 5:30, I know how she feels.

        When I open my computer, I face 75 to 110 messages. That's before the water boils. I'm  over-Facebooked daily, and people in online groups are pretending to start discussions when they're really trying to recruit or place people for jobs.  Do they really think this is a way to win friends and influence people --- by tweeting hard-sell messages?

        My friend Dave, who runs a branding company, tweets every day. He has over 1,200 followers. Instead of trying to sell them in 140 characters, Dave tries to help them, and give them things to think about. One day it might be about a promotion opportunity that car dealers are missing out on, and the next day, a new idea a home builder in Denver is trying out. Or a new PR tactic for medical centers. Dave appears to operate on a principle that's rather simple: if you love someone enough, there's a good chance they'll love you back.

        The kinds of tweets and postings and messages we can do without are the other kind. The all-about-me kind. "I just bought a swim suit --- they were half off." There's nothing for me in there.  Now, as much as I like to see swimsuits half off, why do I want to know this? Do they have the kind I like? Where is this sale? Is that my kind of store?

        Print ads and TV commercials fail for the same reason. There's nothing in them for the viewer. Leo Burnett, the head of his own huge ad agency in Chicago, once defined a good ad as one that's easier to read than turn the page. I believe that's true. By easier to read, Leo meant an ad so interesting and relevant to you that you just had to read it. No decision --- you just read it.

        Whenever I find myself captivated into reading an ad, I try to figure out why. An intriguing photo, a shocking statement, an unexpected promise, a striking question, a great offer? Often it's all of the above.

        We go to social media (or any other media) to get something out of them. When we don't, we have a right to be upset and complain. Or simply not pay attention. Call it self interest, call it self respect.

        If all someone wants to do is bombard you with his favorite subject, him, please realize he won't get a positive response from you, like Dave would.

        As I always tell my clients, you pay the same amount for a bad ad as you do for a good one.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Advice to the lovelorn, from Wall Street.

       Every once in a while, the Wall Street Journal veers slightly off course and becomes emotional. Yesterday was one of those days.

       The article that got my attention was "Lovelorn in a Facebook Age", about dealing with breakups.

       "It's not a heartbroken thing, it's a brain thing." The Journal was quoting Marianne Legato, a cardiologist and founder of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. I assume there are a lot of broken brains there.

       It seems the level of "neurotransmitters in the brain is affected by a romantic split, producing a range of symptoms from sadness and anxiety, to changes in sleep, appetite, and even motor coordination," the Journal said. "Sometimes it doesn't matter if you're the dumper or the dumpee", it concluded. Being a serial dumpee, I can understand.

      The point of the article was how technology today --- smart phones and social media --- help us try to hang on. Just a peek at your ex's Twitter feed or Facebook page can be a rush. According to the Journal, the temptation to send a quick text is almost overwhelming. "It's like we have a cocaine craving", observes Dr. Legato.

       So here's my question to you: with all this pent-up emotion, how come so little shows up on Facebook pages? I mean real emotion, not all the talk about the great party, accompanied with photos of someone's head on another's shoulder. We call each other friends on Facebook, but there's little grief, almost no anger, scarcely anything but either a smile or a face with a frown.

      Not that there should be. You don't see me crying on Facebook. But let's be honest, this is not the place for real friendship or true feelings about a break up. It's more like a summer theater with a friendly audience. We edit in our heads before we share online.  Not everyone can share their feelings with some people they hardly know.

     In fact, there are so many happy party shots on Facebook, maybe that's what it is. Party media. Social in that sense. We say superficial things we would say at a party, knowing the music's too loud and nobody's really listening anyway. We're there for fun, in our nicest clothes.

     Probably not a safe place to discuss the wounds of the lovelorn.




Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The art of serious fun.

       After one of my classes, a student bundled up her papers and dropped a comment. "You really make this class fun."

      It made me wonder if the advertising classes I took in college were fun. Upon reflection, they weren't. They were dry and monotonous, but fortunately only lasted for 50 minutes, three times a week. Our classes today are four hours.

      I loved those courses anyway, because each week we discussed a different ad campaign. Then we had to do new ad campaigns as homework, and creating ads and TV commercials was enjoyable even if the lectures and classes weren't. Eventually earning a living playing with pictures and words, and putting them together in new ways, was fun to contemplate.

      The University of Michigan had just one ad professor, and he was in the journalism department, surrounded by grizzled ex-reporters and editors trying to look academic in tweed jackets with factory-sewn patches, but unable to quit smoking. Professor Wooding had worked as a writer on the Canada Dry account in the pre-Mad-Men days, and felt the weight of representing Madison Avenue in little Ann Arbor.  He wore a grey flannel suits with black knit ties and smoked Lucky Strikes in class. He exhaled cynicism.

       We students did awful ads for the homework and colored them with crayons. They were terrible because they looked and sounded like ads, full of cliches, which Professor Wooding found comforting. He handed them back with a dour mien, and discussed our work in technical terms. We never learned anything about persuasion, the human mind, desire, nor that the readers and viewers were human. Apparently that was what my psychology, sociology, and anthropology classes were for.

      Professor Wooding asked me to be his afternoon assistant, for which I raked in $35 a month. I must've done his filing pretty well, because he got me a summer internship at the largest ad agency in Detroit. That paid $175 a month.

      As for my classes now, I have to make them fun, because if the ad isn't fun to make, it won't be fun to read or view. Solving a problem, working out a strategy, employing the right tactics, and finally doing the words and pictures --- they are why New York agency head Jerry Della Femina called advertising "the most fun you can have with your clothes on."

      What more could we ask?



Monday, August 22, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood pleads no contest to D.U.I.

       Estella Warren plays Little Red Riding Hood in what I consider the penultimate Chanel commercial.


       That was before she faced the judge on a May, 2011, incident when she allegedly smashed into three cars in Los Angeles. From Planet of the Apes, to Chanel, to court. What does that tell you?

       It tells you, for one thing, that hiring celebrities is a tricky business. They can do things you don't want your brand to do.

       For another, sometimes art can imitate life, in ways you can't predict.

      Little Red Riding Hood seems like an innocent children's tale. But according to noted psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, it's a myth of innocence lost. The naivete of childhood. The dangers of sexuality. Universal themes abound, with a moral lesson thrown in.

      It's also the Chanel branding story: the independent woman going out in the world and taking control of her own life. Perfect for Chanel No. 5, except that I didn't expect her to drink the stuff.

      Very few brands have been as carefully nurtured as Chanel, telling its story so many ways. Marlboro, a brand over 50 years old whose story is the American cowboy hero, rarely takes on a view through a new prism.  Chanel is much braver: new stories all the time, but with the same message. You can almost see the little black dress under Ms. Hood's cape.

        Keeping a brand fresh requires renewing the positioning, the presentation, and the promotion constantly. That, in turn, requires a great deal of both discipline and imagination.

       The only thing nobody imagined, I guess,  was four months in a residential rehab facility and five years of informal probation.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Romance and the Social Animal.

       In his book "The Social Animal", New York Times columnist David Brooks describes research by Faby Gagne and John Lyndon.

       According to the study, 95 percent of those in love believe that their current partner is above average in looks, intelligence, warmth, and sense of humor. They describe their former lovers, however, as closed-minded, emotionally unstable, and "generally unpleasant".

       As I thought about that, I began to wonder if this applies to boss-employee relationships in the marketing world. I couldn't find any data on the subject, but it seems to me it does. In my experience, bosses tend to be myopic about their employees at first, and I think it's because they were responsible for the hiring and their employees' successes reflect on them.

       Did you ever hear an executive say he just hired a terrible person, a no-talent inexperienced bum? Of course not. Recruiting sometimes verges on being a sport. It's competition, like love and fishing. "We got Edna for $2000 less than she was asking." "I just reeled in that writer from Phoenix. I was worried he'd go to New York."

        Once you're on the job, "crystalization" sets in. The 19th Century French writer Stendahl described it as "a mental process which draws, from everything that happens, new proofs of perfection of the loved one". This is the honeymoon period, but it doesn't last long.

       Quit, and everything changes. My first boss used to tell people "I never lost anyone I wanted to keep". Then why did he keep them till they quit?

       Years later, when I quit Foote, Cone, and Belding in Chicago, I found a note on my desk the next day. "Please leave immediately. You have caused me a great deal of embarrassment by quitting." And go I did, by 10 a.m., even though the week before I wrote the slogan that won the agency a huge piece of business from Kraft.

        Obviously there's more to business than business.   

Saturday, August 20, 2011

One person's condo is another person's farm.

     Reading the newspaper this morning (yes, I'm over 30), I was struck by two opposing dreams.

     On page 7D were a story and pictures of rustic Brown Island, Maine, where you can buy a house with a dock for about the price of a condo in San Francisco.

     On page 8D, right across, was an ad for Sotheby's, with 35 little pictures and captions of those condos in San Francisco, and other houses way beyond one's reach.

     At various times in our lives, our dreams shift. I used to be on the Sotheby's page. Now, if it weren't for the weather, it's that place in Maine, where I could lie on my back in the high grass and read E. B. White's essays.

     As marketing and advertising people, we have to keep these kinds of shifts in mind. People have them all the time. No market is ever static, none of us is consistent. Dreams change with real life, and nightmares interrupt dreams.

      Now that there are more computers than bathtubs in the United States, changes seem to happen every time we open our laptops. Our moods shift, our attitudes bend with new information, our belief systems are challenged.  One day we love, Gilt that afternoon, and by evening we're back to Amazon. Or is it Stussy? Some days we'll go anywhere for free shipping.

      As if that weren't enough, the average American is now bombarded by over 3,000 commercial messages per day. "Everything is media" is what we in advertising say. The human brain can't deal with all these messages.  Fortunately, only about 16 of the 3,000 per day sink in, or we'd go crazy.

      What's a marketer to do? Focus on the source, the customer, and keep your eyes and ears on her. Question her, watch what she does, try to understand her and find out what matters to her. I'm pretty sure you'll find that although fashions change, goals change, and aspirations change, human nature --- basic needs and values --- doesn't change very much.

        And human nature is what takes us from 8D to 7D.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why the best commercials are on YouTube.

     Why is it we can always find the coolest commercials on YouTube, and are bored to death by the ones we see on television?

        For example, the best candy commercials I've ever seen are on YouTube. The ones for Dove Chocolates, in Australia. They're fantastic --- wonderful casting, hilarious stories, and beautifully filmed and edited. Only on YouTube. But not on U.S. television.



        Or the Chanel commercial called "It's a Man's World", on YouTube. Riveting.


        What's happening on American television these days? Do the prices of TV time scare the ad managers here? Are the Australians and the French more creative than we are? Experience tells me no. Television time is more in demand than ever, and we have incredible ad people here who consistently pick up Clios and Lions at the Cannes Film Festival.

        Something else must be going on, and I suspect it's the economy. Advertisers are anxious and impatient, and they're trying to make the commercials sell harder.  Got a line of chocolates that are perceived as a luxury? That's not good in a recession! Tell everyone they're good and worth the money, and step on it! Got a fragrance that's a little expensive for young people in times like these? Do something! Give them seven reasons why it smells so good.

       When times get tougher, voices get louder and shriller, commercials get strident and come to the point faster, and ads get awful. I believe we're going through a period like that right now. Alec Baldwin, a terrific comic actor, is walking through airports, pointing at signs, in a credit card commercial. Everyone's walking and talking and saying nothing. At the top of their voices.

       The AAAA --- the American Association of Advertising Agencies --- conducted a study of advertising in a recesssion. The advertisers who keep their bearings and their budgets up, and continue to properly support their brands, come out of the recession much faster and much better.

       Let's remember that. Grace under fire. Let's start putting good, brand-building commercials back on TV, where they can do some good.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Are we really ever logical?

       In marketing, we sometimes think in terms of two kinds of goods for sale: impulse items and considered purchase items. The theory is that the behavior involved in buying each of them is quite different.

       The first products I worked on as an advertising person in Chicago would be categorized as impulse items. Jim Beam Bourbon, Wish-Bone Salad Dressing, and King's Men toiletries. But were they really impulse purchases? Even though bourbon was relatively inexpensive, someone's choice of brands is not  to be taken lightly. What their friends think of it, what they drink, the price, and how it's presented can make a big difference. Some products are a "badge" people wear, to tell the world who they are. Whether you make your own salad dressing or serve a "store-bought" brand can also say something about you; to some people, it can say a lot. And what a woman buys a guy to put on his face --- and whether he uses it or not --- can be the start of a beautiful relationship. Or maybe the end.

        Considered-purchase items include big-ticket categories like airline seats, cars, and computers. Now think about it. 20% of the air travelers do 80% of the flying. A big deal. And a great proportion of those tickets are bought by company travel planners, not the traveling employees. People in the airline  business have learned that you'd better find a way to market to both the decider and the influencer.

       You'd think people would deliberate carefully which car they'd rather buy, so we'd better market and present thoroughly. Then why do red convertibles in the window bring in more showroom traffic? Why are we so crazy about the way Macs look, and why do we run our palms over them? Car and computer companies agonize over their plans, and their promotion materials are plentiful. But tell the truth: didn't you have your heart set on what you wanted even before you went to the store to check them out?  Car marketing people will tell you that another important part of the advertising mission is to keep recent buyers sold, so buyer's remorse doesn't set in a few days later.

        Even in the world of trade advertising, where the job is to sell to businesses, there's a lot of personal stuff going on. How will the boss react if the buyer recommends an unfamiliar brand --- a different one than the boss' friends recommended at the tennis club? Will the choice help or hurt the buyer's chances of getting a raise? People in business, like all of us, have worries and dreams. We have to equip them deal with these emotional realities, which to them can be far more important than your product's features.

       That's why it's always important to remember that no matter whether we're selling commercial jets or bath sponges, fire trucks or fine art --- we're selling to people. They want facts and they have feelings, and weigh them both. You'd better understand that if you want to sell to them.

        Your customers are only human.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What they don't sell at Banana Republic.

       People always want to know if I watch "Mad Men". My standard answer is that I don't like soap operas. The truth is I don't like to see my life on television.

       When I was starting out, advertising was considered a glamorous occupation, sort of like hedge funds are now. I was a big hit at parties, always being asked what working in an advertising agency is really like, and of course, I over-glamorized it at every opportunity.

       I told my friends how I spent my days thinking up multi-million-dollar ideas for Wish-Bone salad dressing or Jim Beam Bourbon. They asked me what I did when I got to work in the morning (discuss Johnny Carson office to office in the creative department with my coffee in hand). What were some of my accomplishments last week (wrote a song, "I've got those acne blemish blues", for a new Helene Curtis skin preparation). What celebrities I wrote commercials for (stage star Shirley Jones saying "how do you like my buns?" as she reaches in her Sunbeam oven).

       Later, the stakes got bigger when I worked at Chevrolet's agency. I got to tell my non-ad-agency friends about production trips to L.A. to cast commercials, and how the production people got that Impala convertible on top of Castle Rock in Utah. (The car and model were flown atop the rock by helicopter. She was so scared an engineer had to hide under the car, to keep the model calm.)

       As my career progressed, I spent more time being me and less time exaggerating. But somewhere on a high shelf in my clothes closet today is a photo of me from the "Mad Men" days. I was walking on Lake Street in Chicago, felt hat on my head and hands in the pockets of my raincoat. I was whistling as I walked, as I do now, often to the embarrassment of those with me. The photo was taken by a guy who handed you a small brown envelope; if you put two dollars inside and mailed it, in a week you'd get your picture.

       Today if you'd like to see what I looked like in those glamorous days, all you have to do is go to Banana Republic. I hear their new "Mad Men" collection is terrific.

       But I don't think the pockets come stuffed with cocktail napkins with headlines for ads written on them, or the receipt from last night's taxi home because I worked past seven, or a claim check for the grey hat that I hope is still waiting for me in the cloakroom across from the bar at Riccardo's.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Has anyone seen Little Red Riding Hood?

       When I'm asked which TV commercials are the best, I never flinch.

        I immediately go to YouTube and pull up some of the latest fragrance videos. Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, Calvin Klein, and others.

       They're pure, unadulterated examples of good selling, and they do so generally without uttering a word. That's the power of visual storytelling. When you think about it, life is stories, with our heroes and villains, obstacles, fantasies, dreams and nightmares.

        The commercial I love the most (and wish I wrote!) is for Chanel No. 5, with Estella Warren. We see Little Red Riding Hood, red lipsticked and sophisticated, getting ready for the evening. She reaches into what looks like a gleaming vault, and retrieves a bottle of Chanel No. 5. She puts it on and is about to leave. Her guard dog tries to go with her, but she tells him to stay. She wraps the red hood and cape around her as the door opens. She walks out, alone, under the Paris sky.

        It's a story, Coco Chanel's story, of the independent woman, told perfectly. Truly a commercial for intelligent adults, masterfully told.

        The other commercials I love in this category tell stories, too. The chambermaid who hides the male guest's towel, as a souvenir for herself. A beautiful shop clerk whose romantic instincts awakens a movie star to think for himself. A woman whose wiles turn a bellboy on his heels. Provocative? Sure. And very alluring. Completely informed persuasion.

        The next time you are charged with writing anything, tell a story. A story about the benefit of the product, what it's really used for. It can be a parody, a fable, a fairy tale, a myth, or a  detective story. Just be sure it has the elements of a good story.

        For one thing, it's fun telling stories; it's an important way humans relate. And it's even more fun to be on the receiving end. Stories are a gift.

        That's my story for today.


Monday, August 15, 2011

We've got to stop meeting like this.

       I think advertising and marketing people like meetings for the same reason we liked movies in elementary school. It's a chance to close your notebooks, sit in the dark, and know you'll be out of the spotlight for a while unless you fall asleep and snore.

        Personally, I love meetings because they're good places for people-watching. The top gun, letting everyone know why he called this meeting. His assistant, explaining the objectives and the rules of engagement. Then the rest of us, for whom this meeting is about as high on our priority lists as trimming our cuticles.

       I'm eternally grateful to my mentor, who taught me how to yawn with my mouth closed.

       I was in the meeting that the biggies at General Motors called to discuss Ralph Nader's book, "Unsafe at Any Speed", about the Chevy rear-engine Corvair. It led to a $20-million ad campaign that I wrote when I woke up. A good meeting.

       Another meeting about GM that I remember was an internal meeting held at our agency. One of our senior vice presidents said he was worried that General Motors was selling so many cars, the government might make them split off Chevrolet. My friend Marv offered a solution: Chevy should stop advertising, let Ford overtake them, and then advertise "We're only number 2" like Avis. The senior vice president said that probably wouldn't work. I thought Marv would be out of work by nightfall.

        I also remember another meeting that took place two weeks after we learned that a big client was on the verge of leaving but would give us one last chance to save the business. The meeting was in our Chairman's office. He had decided this was so important, he'd present our recommended ad campaign to the client alone, mano to mano. We in the creative department had worked very hard, and come up with three campaigns that would do a great job, and we recommended one. We presented the pluses and minuses of each to the Chairman, and spent the rest of the day preparing him for every possible question. He asked me to stack the campaigns on his office couch, with the recommendation on the right, so he'd remember the correct one in the morning.

      After meeting with the client,  the Chairman called us in for a debriefing. The meeting went well, we would not lose the account, and the client loved our recommendation, which he pointed to.

      Unfortunately, that was not our recommendation. He had sold the wrong campaign. Apparently the cleaning lady had done a major cleaning the night before, and placed the wrong campaign on the right side of the couch.

      That's when we decided that next time we had a meeting with the Chairman, we'd label our recommendations with a big red permanent marker star.



Sunday, August 14, 2011

I hope you have three identical homes someday.

       Thriller writer Stuart Woods, whose books I'm afraid to read, has three homes. One is a co-op in New York; another is on Mount Desert Island, in Maine; and the third is in Key West, Florida. They're all decorated alike, with the same Ralph Lauren furnishings. "You get into certain grooves", Woods says, "I have certain requirements".

       The reason he has homes in three different locations is that he likes the same temperature year 'round, so he moves with the seasons. The reason they're all decorated the same is so he has less to adjust to as he moves from home to home.

        In my experience, creative people have certain requirements, too. They don't want to flay around wildly. They want to know the rules of the road. A lot of executive types think they're doing writers and art directors a favor by not giving them directions and boundaries. That's like giving someone a car with no brake pedal. In advertising at least, creative people want to know what to be creative about.

       Even if you're asking someone to think out of the box, the least you can do is show them the box.

       "The ultimate driving machine" for BMW came from looking carefully into the box. It helps separate performance-oriented BMW from, say, Mercedes, which is more of a luxury automobile with a soul. A few years ago when BMW insisted on trying to get part of Mercedes' luxury market, they ran ads showing elite polo players, and nearly lost their carefully-won performance branding.

       Nike's "just do it" campaigns aren't about shoes so much as they're about sports; sports values and the sports ethos. If you're not fully into the joy of winning and the agony of defeat, you shouldn't work on Nike marketing. Silly commercials, movie star endorsements --- sorry, that's not Nike.

       I enjoyed working on Pringles, Head and Shoulders, and Mr. Clean. Each Procter and Gamble product has its own hard-won creative strategy, and if you deviate from it, it could be curtains for you. But the commercials you write can be funny, serious, informative, anything --- just not off strategy. That's a requirement, and P&G people are great about letting you be creative within its bounds.

       Author Stuart Woods doesn't want to have an identity crisis every time he changes locations. He wants his creativity to come out with everything else held constant, not demanding his attention.

       He's got to keep his mind on making you jump out of your skin.



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Help stamp out committees.

       In the news last week was a story about the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee. They're the people who recommend new stamps to the U.S. Postmaster General. The process takes three full years, compared to the Nobel Peace Prize process, which takes 15 months.

       I've got my own ideas for stamps that honor my students, so I'd better start getting them to the Committee. Here's what I have in mind:

       1. The Lucas Flemming Stamp. He was the first student who told me nobody wants to read words in an ad. He said a picture is worth a thousand words. I asked him to draw a picture that says that. That was in 2008. He's still working on it.

       2. The Rory Manning-Glassenberg Stamp. Rory is the student who asked me thirteen times why fashion designers have to be able to sew. I told her it's been proven to be the best way to hold sleeves on. She believed me, and sold her stapler to a fashion marketing major.

        3. The Portfolio Class Stamp. This stamp commemorates graduating seniors from all disciplines who have done an above-average job on their portfolios. This stamp has a couple of typos on it, but it passed Spell-Check.

        4. The Morton Hemphill Stamp. Morton is a man of few words, which will make his dream to be a novelist an uphill battle. He's made his way through college by taking only courses with multiple-choice exams, and should be honored by a set of five stamps: A, B, A and C, B and D, and None of the Above.

       5. The Jervis Perlmutter-Zane Stamp. Jervis was the nineteenth student from Chicago who claimed to have written the line, "It's finger-lickin' good". However, he was the first one who had written it for a motor oil account.

       6. The Sisley Kixmiller Stamp. Sisley was the student from Long Island who taught me to turn on the projector before calling the Tech Department to send somebody up to fix it. This might seem too trivial to merit a stamp, but I was always in the dark without her.

        That's my list, but I'd be glad to add some if you can think of anyone I missed. But hurry; it takes three years. That's why the Postal Service calls their basic stamp the "Forever".

Friday, August 12, 2011

As a writer, I'm a man of few words.

       I keep getting asked the same question over and over again: do I like long copy in ads, or short copy?

       So this time I answered in a different way. I like neither long copy or short copy. I like the amount of copy it takes to meet the objective. For a candy bar, it's usually short or none at all. Who wants to read about a candy bar? For a car, there might be more things a customer wants to know before she decides to go to a dealer.

       Actually, from my point of view as a writer, I'm not crazy about writing a lot of copy. Sometimes you have to, to make the sale.

       When I worked at Foote, Cone, and Belding in Chicago, I was creative director on a large bank client. Every Thursday at 11, I met with the bank's chairman, and he would tell me what was on his mind. Then I had to go back to the office and do a long-copy, full page ad for the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune. I got it down to a system. When I got back, I immediately went to my art-director partner Lester's office. We'd work out a headline and a dramatic visual. Then I'd call in Carl, a writer I hired from New York who knew banking lingo and who'd write the long text. Everyone was happy, especially the chairman of the bank.

      I have written long-text ads when I've had to, and one three-page ad I created actually sold a $4-million boat. A man bought a copy of Yachting magazine at the Los Angeles airport, read the ad on the plane, and called in his order to  my client Hatteras Yachts in North Carolina when he landed in New York. The client nearly fainted and called me immediately.

       David Ogilvy used to say that long-copy ads don't have to be read in order to work. They serve as a graphic to communicate that you've got a lot of good stuff to say about your product.

       I've written no-copy ads, too. But they had a big idea communicated by the visual, which I contributed to. In a sense, they're all-copy ads, because the picture spoke volumes.

       As I said earlier, copy should be long enough to get the idea across.

       And then stop.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Great creativity went into your Mac. What comes out of it?

     Technology seems to be changing everything, including us.

      I've learned, for example, that technology has changed fine leather. As a result of chemically enriched feeding for cattle, their veins are larger and more visible, and hides have more resiliency. Check your handbag.

      Technology has changed apparel, as computers enable quick knockoffs of European designers --- but not their fine manufacturing methods. And computers efficiently turn bamboo into what our government says should be labeled rayon.

       Many people claim technology is even changing the meaning of friendship. Changing it into the guarded, everything's rosey, non-commital relationships we have by the dozens on social media.

       What about advertising? Has technology changed the salesmanship and persuasive power in ad-making? Watching how professionals work today, I'm getting worried.

       I see art directors rummaging through site after site of stock photos, in search of the perfect visual. They clearly won't find anything original; stock is stock, by definition. If, for example, the ideal visual for a handbag ad is a woman swimming with alligators, changes are slim you'll find it in a stock photo. And even if you do, will it be the right model, looking the right way with the right attitude, in the right environment with the right lighting? In many ways, the computer which frees us to do so much confines our creativity.

      What about advertising writers and technology? Computers make it easy to add and delete words, remove paragraphs, and generally fool around. But words look great on a computer --- and there's no such thing as idea-check. In your writing, you can have a weak idea or none at all, and it's hard to push that delete button on your precious words.

      To me, no writer should write a headline without a writer's rough layout, complete with both visual and headline. Writers don't like to do that anymore; their computers get envious. The ads are suffering. The old excuse that "the headline is so good it doesn't need a great new visual" stifles good advertising.

      Just when more products are becoming more alike more quickly, thanks to technology, commercials and ads are also becoming more alike, thanks to technology. Instead of wracking their brains, some creative people are just wracking their Macs. But Macs have no judgement, no empathy, no human understanding of people and what interests them.

      Those are what advertising needs most.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Have you seen my writer's blocks?

        From time to time, advertising writers have told me they're suffering from writer's block. I usually have the same amount of empathy as I have when somebody tells me they don't have a thing to wear.

        Some students tell me they can't seem to think of anything to write, usually on a day when a paper is due. The reason I have trouble empathizing is that I have never had the block, but I think I know some of the causes.

        1. They can't think of anything spectacular. No "killer idea", as we say. Anything less can seem like nothing.

        2. They haven't done their homework. Ideas don't fly in the windows or through revolving doors. You  have to do the work first. The research, the store visits, talking to people at the factory and people on the street. David Ogilvy told my friend Ron that you have to know seven times as much as you're going to write, before you create an ad. Most copywriters don't.

         3. They're tired of solving problems the same old way --- even if they're very successful at it. Creative people are their own worst critics, and that's what makes them good. It also makes for a continual striving for something new and better.

         4. Something else is going on that has nothing to do with writing. I'm not a therapist, yet I feel the block in writing is often something to do with feelings of self-worth, fear of being rejected, and so on. If it wasn't writer's block, it might be dentist's block, or CPA's block.

          My suggestion for all of the above is to go to work. Free associate. Think of some metaphors. Go to the library and look at books of award-winning ads, or even better, a book of cartoons.

          As soon as you loosen up, so will your pen. They say the most intimidating thing to a writer is a blank sheet of paper. So fill it up --- write down everything that occurs to you, both good and bad. (Later, with a little tweaking, bad ideas can turn into good.) Put the paper away for a day, then add to it.

         I say about a good idea what my grandmother used to say when I lost something: you'll find it when you're not looking for it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Are social media really marketing?

       An interesting piece in Adweek had the headline "Marketing is Losing its Mojo". The subhead was equally frank: "All this focus on social media and analytics seems to be sucking the creativity out of marketing."

        The author, Denise Lee Yohn, is playing my tune. She's a brand consultant in San Diego who has worked for such companies as Sony, Frito-Lay, and Jack in the Box. She asserts we shouldn't confuse tools with content.

        We're living in difficult financial times; maybe that's why there's so much emphasis on numbers and metrics. But numbers and metrics can't change minds. Only big ideas can. Only big ideas can change attitudes and beliefs, and help solve problems for people. Only big ideas and concepts can help little companies beat the pants off big companies, and help big companies get better at their own game.

        When did a number or metric get you to try a new shampoo? Or a new mascara? Or get you to investigate a brand that never stood out in your mind before?

         The evidence of what happens when there's no big idea is everywhere. The newspaper industry is dying, in all but a couple of cases. There's been no big idea in that field for years, except attempts to give away their product on the Internet. (In one of my marketing classes, the students came up with 20 ideas to save the San Francisco Chronicle --- so it can be done!)

         The DMV in almost every state can use some big ideas to make things better for both their employees  and their customers. And department stores, too. They need ideas bigger than a sale every day or private labels nobody feels great about.

        Big ideas such as "Just do it!" took Nike out of the shoe business into the sports business, and into our minds and hearts. We all know Coke is the real thing, and Apple is the product of people who "think different".

        Some companies keep coming back to old big ideas, because they work. Burger King constantly finds new ways to remind us to have it our way, with burgers that are broiled, not fried. And they just hired a new ad agency and fired one that let people forget that.

       Denise Lee Yohn knows that social media and other platforms are changing so rapidly that other companies' successes can be dated and irrelevant. The only way to be relevant is to focus on your customers with big ideas that are relevant to them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Art of Dressing Down

       I'm always amazed when I see a high-fashion designer come out to take his bows after showing his line at a fashion show.

       He's usually dressed worse than I am when I'm getting ready to paint a room. He's wearing basic black, usually a T-shirt, old jeans, and non-descript running shoes.

       Why? Where's he running to?

        Isn't this one of those guys who says he's creating art, not apparel? One of those guys who spends top dollar to buy ads to make you spend top dollar? What's he trying to say? "Just because you spend a fortune on clothes, don't expect me to!"

        Or maybe it's "I'm working so hard backstage for this show that I didn't realize I don't have a thing to wear!" Or perhaps it's simply, "Do as I say, not as I do".

        Personally, I think it shows disrespect for the customer. Shopping for clothes is an experience. Living the life inside the glow of a high-fashion brand should be a totally marvelous experience.

        It should include a designer who looks like a designer, always in the best of taste, surrounded with the best of taste, and dressed in the best of taste. An awesome character, oozing with charm and drop-dead good looks, that we'd all like to be invited to jump into a taxi with to go to a party on a Friday night in Milan and again the next night in Paris.

       Not some guy who stopped in on a Saturday afternoon on his way to the hardware store.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where have all the heroes gone?

       Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the noted author and Harvard University professor of history, wrote that "ours is an age without heroes...greatness is hard for humanity to bear."  He obviously had been watching Kim Kardashian.

       We in America seem to have a different kind of hero these days. We drink the same water as Jennifer Aniston, walk in Michael Jordan's shoes, compare ourselves in the mirror to Kate Moss or Ewan McGregor, and anxiously await J. Lo's return to American Idol. Celebrities are our heroes, even if their reigns are short.

       Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "heroism means difficulty, postponement of praise, postponement of ease, introduction of the world into the private apartment, introduction of eternity into the hours measured by the sitting room clock."

       Does that sound like Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez to you? Are Madonna or Lady Gaga postponing praise? If these are the people we admire, follow, look up to, and attempt to model our lives after, have you ever asked yourself why?

        Do these "stars" help us live our lives, or perhaps keep us from living our lives? What do they do for us? Are their values valuable? When a hero stumbles, as Tiger Woods did, are we the ones whose toes are stubbed? Or do we like seeing our heroes stumble?

        According to Dr. Schlessinger, "the common man has always regarded the great man with mixed feelings --- resentment as well as admiration, hatred as well as love".  While we may want to be looked at as one of the Hilfigers and live our lives in the lap of Ralph Lauren, aren't we setting ourselves up for disappointment and perhaps even disapproval?

        Do we really think meeting a Justin Timberlake should be our goal in life? Do we want to be sure we look as much as possible like Halle Berry in case we do meet him? To what degree do the world of fashion and the business of advertising lure us to these hero-substitutes? And if we all have them as heroes, why do we all want to look alike?

        A hundred and fifty years ago, John Stuart Mill observed that "the amount of eccentricity in a society generally has been proportionate to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time."

        I vote for more eccentricity and creativity on our parts.  Let's kick our definitions of heroes up a few notches.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

The scion of Neiman-Marcus.

       Stanley Marcus personified his family's store. He was 100% quality, in his outlook, his vision, and his taste. As a former Chairman of Neiman-Marcus, he had a lot to say in his two books, "Minding the Store" and "Quest for the Best".

       "To be a tastemaker, you have to have good taste, but having good taste does not make you a tastemaker," he wrote. "In addition to good taste, the tastemaker must have the self-confidence and some of the arrogance of Cezanne."

        He tells of the arrogance of Walter Hoving, the president of Tiffany's. Hoving's philosophy was "Give the customer what Tiffany's likes, because what it likes the public ought to like." Marcus also tells us of Gucci, which New York magazine called "the rudest store in New York". Marcus said it was probably Dr. Gucci's way of expressing pride, while the rest of the world described it as arrogance.

       It made me question how I define taste.

       Is good taste whatever a famous designer says it is --- or is it in the eyes of experts, or simply the eyes of the beholder? Are there such things as good taste and bad taste, or is it taste and no taste?  And who decides that?

       As always, my marketing side wins out. I say the customer decides. We can and should try to educate our customers about taste and fashion, but ultimately it's her taste that we have to relate to.

       Another question is, is taste based on some innate sensitivity, or is it carefully, studiously acquired? If the latter, how is it acquired? Do we assume the taste of the editor of Vogue, or editor of Nylon or MTV? Or a celebrity? Or our contemporaries at work or school?

      The last time I was in Neiman-Marcus, I assumed the taste of the salesperson.

       I was looking at the "readers", those reading glasses that come in various strengths. I was worried that the store's selection was just for women, but Ms. DeMint said the pair I was thinking about was perfect on me. That it gave me both character and style, and was expressly selected by their optical buyer in New York. I bought them, but had buyer's remorse by the time I hit the door. But the new glasses didn't give me enough character and style to return them immediately.  I came back the next day to see if Ms. DeMint was there. She was. So I left. Today, they're giving both character and style to the glovebox in my car.

      I guess I had enough taste to go into Mr. Marcus' store. Not enough, however,  to withstand the self-confidence of Ms. DeMint.

Friday, August 5, 2011

My idea of a dream job.

     My good friend Paul, who heads up a brilliant ad agency in Toronto, emailed me that he's really a writer but started out as an art director because art directors don't work as hard. That tickled me.

      I started out as a writer because I thought writers don't work as hard.

      The truly hard part for both is coming up with the idea. The concept. Something that will get people to look at a product or service a whole new way. A mind-changer. That part isn't easy, and has been known to drive creative people into something more predictable, like brain surgery.

      Then, once we have the idea and agree on it, I get to go back to my quiet office and write the copy for the ad or commercial. Meanwhile, the art director has to do the layout, the "comp" (comprehensive layout), choose the typeface, go somewhere to shoot the photo or work with the illustrator, prepare the ad for the publication, and check everything a hundred times.

       By the time it's done, I've had days to sharpen my pencils, read magazines and the awards annuals, replenish my stock of Oreos and M&Ms, look at reels of directors who do TV commercials, check in with the art director to say "that looks great", and probably start work on another ad or commercial.

       At various stages, the writer and the art director make the decisions together, but the principle is the same. The art director works while the writer walks around with a coffee cup, telling his peers about a movie he's just seen.

       Don't get me wrong. Writing advertising isn't easy. It looks easy, but most ads are poorly written. If it seems easy, you're probably settling much too early or doing something superficial. Besides, writers have to walk around and drink coffee and talk about movies, to give their brains time to organize, prioritize, and click into gear.

       I am in awe of art directors. They usually have the most difficult thing to do in all of advertising: get people's attention and interest them in a split second, because if he or she doesn't, all is lost.

       No matter how sharp the writer's pencils are.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lunches I have known and loved.

       Three martini lunches are legendary in the ad business. Among the account executives. We creative people had to fare for ourselves, without tax-deductible beverages.

       When I was starting out in Chicago, we often went for waffle lunches at the counter in the drug store. They were cheap, and sometimes my friend Ashley would step it up to an ice-cream-waffle-sandwich, instead. That was about as scandalous as we could afford to get. My friend Dennis always tried to get us to go with him to Hoe Kow for fried rice, also cheap. If there were people in line, Dennis would burrow ahead saying "excuse us, we're more important than you". That saved us 20 minutes.

        Later, in Detroit, we were more regimented. Every day the same five of us would run across the street to the Normandie, owned by the father of one of the writers in our group, Jane. Jane went on to New York to create the "I'm a Pepper" campaign and other great work for Mary Wells. The rest included Carol, the writer on FTD flowers by wire; Marv, who came up with the iconic "it's a tasty meatball" commercial for Alka Seltzer and later became vice-chairman of Doyle Dane in New York; Marty, who started his own agency in New York and wrote "The Ultimate Driving Machine" ads and commercials for BMW; and me. We helped each other with ideas and headlines until the fried fish arrived. Then we dove head-first into advertising gossip and buzz. Occasionally we'd invite guests, but they became uncomfortable with our inside jokes and remarks and never came back.

       When I moved to Chicago, and was a "boss", people started guarding what they said at lunch. Several on my staff often invited me to a place they loved, the Bohemian. It had stuffed game on the walls, and was known for their buffalo burgers, tiger steaks, and pool tables. I started going to lunch with clients more often.

        The most memorable advertising agency lunch I ever had was at the famous "21" Club in New York. Very fancy, very exclusive. Members have their own wine cellars in the basement, where they accumulate a good supply for their daughters' weddings. The Chairman of our agency was a member.

        I was in New York with my art-director partner Marty, to make a new  business presentation to a big insurance company. I presented the creative work, Marty's job was to make sure the ads were face up if I  fainted. Then the Chairman of our agency introduced our new hire, a very experienced account supervisor with an insurance background,  who would be our top guy on the account if they chose us. There was applause, smiles on all faces, and handshaking. Then the Chairman invited everyone to "21" for lunch.

        Once there, the new, experienced account supervisor had too much to drink, and started raising his voice. He told our potential new clients that he knew more about insurance than they ever would.

        Then he passed out, face-first, into his Caesar salad.

        Obviously, we didn't get the big insurance account. Marty and I couldn't stop laughing all afternoon and through dinner, and ended up hopelessly depressed at the Monkey Bar on 54th Street.

         Today, my lunches are much quieter. And probably, so am I.




Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How a chick car made a man out of me.

       In a fit of doing something sensible for a change, I bought a used Toyota a few years ago. It's been the best car and the worst, for the same reason.

       Nothing ever goes wrong with it. After all these years and 90,000 miles, I can't think of one good reason to trade it in. We have a gentleman's agreement, my car and I. I get its oil changed regularly, and it takes me to BART regularly. It rarely goes as far as San Francisco. I really don't want to drive anywhere, but I don't want anything to go wrong getting there. My Toyota is reliable.

       But I'm sick of it. I really want a different car, and I don't care if my Toyota knows it.

       Two weeks ago I spent two hours at the local Volkswagen dealer's. Test driving, kibbitzing, fencing about extras, deciding between new and used. The saleswoman was a delight and persuasive. I was sold. So she turned me over to the sharp pencil. The closer. The salesperson's salesperson.

       The conversation was nothing about me or my needs --- just about dollars. I told him I'd call him.

       Later the same afternoon, parked in front of me at a coffee shop, was a car and it  was love at first sight. And it had a for sale sticker on it. A camel-colored convertible beetle with a camel-colored top. I wanted it. The complete opposite of my mild-mannered Toyota.

       No hours of haggling. No sensible evaluation. No checking the Kelly Blue Book or history reports. I just wanted it.

       Funny, I probably would've bought a VW from the dealer a few hours earlier, if it weren't for the closer. In his zeal to keep me from walking out the door, he bled all the fun out of buying a car. Insisted I focus on terms and loans and rates, when I wanted to think about trips to Sonoma and Napa, driving to North Beach for a cappuccino, or pulling up at a four-star resort with the top down.

       I bought the used bug. I haven't really had the heart to break it to my Toyota, but I will. And it was a great lesson in salesmanship.

       I'm a romantic pushover, and for me the sale was about the experience. All the rest is just papers in the glovebox.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

If it was creative the first time, what is it the third?

       Fashion and advertising have one enemy in common: knockoffs.

       It's been a problem in fashion for years, and the government isn't cooperating. Fashion design still can't be copyrighted; only patterns can. Meanwhile, knocker-offers keep getting better at it, thanks to better and better computers. A photo at a fashion show can result in a knockoff in a store window in days. Some retail chains seem to be building a global business on knocking off, and are doing astonishingly well because of their low prices.

       Advertising has its knockoffs, too. You'll recognize it when someone in a class or an advertising agency prefaces her presentation with "you know that Old Spice commercial where the guy..." A knockoff is about to be born.

       We in the ad business call those kinds of ideas "derivative". That's bad. It's the kiss of death.

        When I started in the business, clients all wanted their ads to be like Marlboro...cowboys eating chili, cowboys eating gelato, cowboys washing their hair, cowboys eating coco-flavored cereal.

         I remember a wine client of ours asking for a knockoff of Marlboro's theme, "You get a lot to like in a Marlboro". We came up with such lines as "More to your liking", "A lot to enjoy a lot of ways", "There's more to like in store" and "A lot to enjoy, a lot of ways to enjoy it". Fortunately the client woke up in time to stop the foolishness he had started. In advertising, if somebody steals your idea, it's a rip-off. If you steal somebody else's, it's a parody.

         Are  fashion ads knockoff of each other? Looks like it to me. They're all so predictable. Beautiful models with beautiful cheekbones in eerie locations with beautiful clothes and big logos. How can an industry that proclaims its inventiveness do such copy-cat marketing?

         Would Dior go on TV? Not unless Gucci does. Meanwhile, knockoff artists are stealing the business because now there's a whole generation of customers that don't know the difference.

          In advertising, it's easier to to create derivative ideas, derivative layouts, derivative TV executions. I call it the delicatessen approach to creativity.

          Hey, Max! I need a slice of life with a little honey and a Kardashian on the side.


Monday, August 1, 2011

The day I was fired for two hours.

       One day when I was working in Detroit, the executive v.p. of our billion-dollar agency came to my office at 11:30 on a Tuesday morning and fired me. He said I was disloyal because I didn't go to his birthday party.


       I explained that I had called his office in advance to explain. I had to go to lunch that day with our Chairman of the Board, who had invited the head of one of General Motors' largest divisions to discuss next year's plans. The exec v.p. wasn't persuaded: "Everyone else was there but you." So he fired me.

       I was a mess. I went home, got sick, and went back to work an hour later. The exec v.p. was sitting on my sofa waiting for me. "I've decided not to fire you after all," he said. "You're too good. Look at all these awards" he continued, pointing to a bookshelf in my office.

      I thanked him for not firing me, I think. I was in a daze. The next morning I called my friend Sandy, the top advertising recruiter in Chicago, and asked her to get me back there. Within a month, she did, and I had a much better job. The whole episode taught me some valuable lessons:

      1. You're never fireproof, no matter what you think, what you do, or whom you're having lunch with. Keep your reputation and your portfolio up.

      2. My former mentor, who had moved on to his own agency in Ohio, was right. "There's no security in advertising, Harvey." And pointing to his chest, he added, "the only security you have is here, in your own ability."

     3. Even though you didn't think you went into politics, you did. People are only human, and humans can be very political. Why didn't the agency Chairman prevent me from being fired? I'll never know. I suspect politics.

     Looking back, the whole thing probably wasn't worth throwing up over. It got me back to Chicago, where I thrived. And it proved to me once again that it's not enough to love advertising.

     Sometimes you have to love it more than it loves you.