Category Archives: Uncategorized


This was a Pizza Hut
Now it’s all covered with daisies
you got it you got it

–Talking Heads, “(Nothing but) Flowers”

What is the future of advertising?

Here’s an idea: reward customers by relieving them of the burden of seeing ads. It’s based on the not-particularly brilliant insight that most people avoid advertising if they can. So if you’re a marketer and you’re trying to forge bonds of loyalty with your customers, why not give them what they want: nonvertising.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you’re Coors Light. And let’s say you’re on track to hit your numbers for sales and profitability. To thank your loyal customers, you give back the 8 minutes of time you bought on the NFL game of the week. You don’t sell it off to another advertiser. You give it back to the customer and tell them you did so.

Conversely, if sales or share starts to slip, the advertising returns. And your target is made to see inane re-edits of NFL coach press conferences until he puts down that Bud Light and locks and loads the Silver Bullet instead.

This, of course, is the exact opposite of what advertisers do now. As their market share goes up, brands tend to increase their ad spending. This, ultimately, becomes counter-productive because–did I mention?–people don’t like advertising.

Nonvertising is already happening at the margins. It just doesn’t have a name yet. Think about when your local NPR station does its fundraising drive. They tell you before it starts: cough up your contribution and if we get enough money we’ll cut the fund drive short by a day. Ira Glass and the Car Talk guys know you don’t want to sit there and hear them yammer about public radio’s funding shortfall and the big bad Federal government meanies. And they leverage that fact to their benefit–and ours.

Another example: ad-free “premium” versions of websites like Pandora. You want a clean, clutter-free environment? Pay for it.
Now this isn’t a perfect analogy because the advertiser has no say (and no upside) in whether the customer is subjected to his ads or not…it’s between the site and the user. But still, the basic thinking is the same: use your customer’s desire not to be bombarded with ads as a way to increase traction.

There’s a lovely old science fiction short story by Frederik Pohl called “The Midas Plague.” Written in the 1950s, when post-war American prosperity was really ramping up, it imagined a time in the not-too-distant future when the greatest challenge society faced was material over-abundance. If people didn’t consume in large enough amounts, at a fast enough rate, the wheels of commerce (which in those days largely meant manufacturing, of course) would grind to a halt. In this future, our notion of wealth and poverty was turned on its head. The poorest people were saddled with the most material goods. Their lives were a constant grind of purchasing and consuming, played out in enormous gilded palaces and huge cars. Those at the apex of society, on the other hand, had the means to avoid this misfortunate, and lived in the luxury of austere simplicity.

Now substitute “advertising” for washing machines, lawn mowers and color TVs, and you have the world the way it is (or at least, America the way it is): the well-to-do watch PBS and TV on demand, drive through streets lined with trees, not billboards, and listen to satellite radio in the car. Their Macs are a shimmering expanse of aluminum, 100% decal-free. They prefer environments and media with few or no ads, and pay for the privilege.

Advertising does not suffer from lack of efficacy. It suffers from too much muchness. Brands that figure out how to lessen that, in a way that customers can identify with that brand, stand to benefit greatly.

It’s not the assignment. It’s what you do with it.

I was going to post about the unbelievably annoying Quiznos spot, but that would just be spreading garbage around, not confining or destroying it as it warrants.

Instead, a shout-out to a little bit of loveliness:

While creatives whinge about the confines put upon them for their next million-dollar campaign, someone—maybe a package designer, maybe a freelancer, maybe a waiter at Redhead—saw a way to take the humble “Use by…” freshness-dating requirement and turn it into a totally unexpected delight.

Please familiarize yourself with the safety information in the following commercial.

The new Delta campaign from Weiden & Kennedy is shot in docu-black and white, so you know it’s serious.

Serious as a heart attack, actually. I don’t have a transcript of the actual copy, but here’s what I remember: after posing the rhetorical question “What does it take to fly?” (violating Feinberg’s rule of never starting a conversation with a disinterested party by asking a fake question), the VO goes on to say something like you have to head into the wind, or you won’t be able to generate enough lift to take off. And we see someone who’s clearly a flight instructor making the point to a nervous-looking newbie pilot.

Now, being a writer of copy, I know this whole thing is just a big, winged metaphor for the newly-merged Delta/Northwest entity fearlessly facing stiff economic headwinds and embracing change. I get it, I get it. I don’t care, but I get it.

Still. I was on a plane going to Scotland from JFK last week, waiting our turn to take off, and all I could think was, Are we facing into the wind? What if we’re not? Did I pack too much shit in my duffle? Is my life insurance paid up? How cold is Jamaica Bay this time of year?

This is not what you want your flying public thinking about with your, um, launch spot. And the theme line—“Keep climbing.” Sweet Jesus! Who wants to hear that snatch of cockpit chatter?

Climb! Climb, dammit!

Dispatch from Social-Media Loserville.

What happens when you join Facebook and get alternately creeped out and annoyed by it so you have no “Friends”?

You get publicly humiliated.

My daughter was kind/cruel enough to show me what popped up on her Facebook homepage last week:

I have no idea how many other zillions of people saw this. And please, no mercy friendings. I don’t want your digital pity.

Alex Bogusky’s gone. I’m not.

From what I gather, Alex Bogusky’s been getting out of advertising for a while..first the diet books, then the Dilbert-worthy move to “Chief Disruption Officer” at holding company MDC, and now peacing out for good.

What causes one of the best-known and most successful creative directors of the last 10 years to hang it up at the age of 47?
Is it boredom? After you’ve collected your 20th Gold Pencil and enough Lions to devour Siegfried & Roy, does the job of creative director seem pointless? What happened to the “My best work is ahead of me” mindset?

Lots of creative directors go onto 2nd lives that are more lucrative and maybe more fulfilling than their first ones. Look at Jim Patterson or Andy Spade or (heaven forbid) Donny Deutsch. But these guys never kicked ass creatively to the degree that Bogusky did, so it’s easy to imagine their needing to scratch the itch a different way.

Then there’s the whole sub-category of advertising copywriters who made the switch to commercially successful writers–Peter Mayle, Augusten Burroughs, Robert Goolrick. I don’t know about Mayle, but the last two worked for me at different times, and though very different people, have in common a healthy disdain for advertising, copywriting, and everything and everyone associated with the occupation.

They’re all gone, out of the business. Part of me thinks I should at least be curious about joining them.

But I’m not.

I want to keep doing this while I still have my wits about me. I like making ads. I like learning new ways to make ads. I like working with artisans–photographers, directors, editors, musicians–to make ads real. I get a ridiculous child-like thrill seeing my work, or the work of people I manage, go out into the world.

You’ll get my keyboard when you pry it from my stiff cold fingers.

Football, life and everything else.

My PC friends aren’t going to like this, but I saw nothing wrong with the Tim Tebow commercial. I vehemently disagree with the anti-abortion position it espouses, but this spot made its point simply, inoffensively, and pretty effectively.

In fact, the strongest emotion it evoked in me was frustration. Frustration with Planned Parenthood, NOW and other pro-choice groups who have let themselves and their cause get outmaneuvered and out-communicated. “Pro-choice” would describe 90% of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, but none of the talent there is being utilized.

I have this nagging feeling that pro-choice groups feel they are morally above something as unseemly as communication strategy or advertising…that these are activities only the Dark Side indulges in. Part of that whole “I’d rather be pure and lose than compromised and win” mind-set that cripples the Left.

I say: Shut the F up and go out and find your own upstanding mother and children. Film her talking about how she made an incredibly difficult and painful decision years earlier, when her circumstances would have condemned a child to abandonment or worse. Let her show her love and pride in her children. Put it on the Super Bowl and pass the nachos.

You’ll have something to cheer for and you’ll be doing your own daughters a big favor.

Getting ‘Faced.

After disdaining Facebook from afar ever since my daughters starting obsessing over it 4 years ago, I joined up 3 weeks ago so I could disdain it up close.

I was not disappointed.

After I completed the signup process, the first person suggested to me as a Friend (as opposed to a l/c friend, who is someone you actually know and like and see from time to time) was my 75-year old former boss from the ‘80s, now living la vida loca in Boca. Facebook had clearly jumped the shark long before my sad 57-year old self signed up.

I went to my Homepage?/Room?/Place?/Wall? and gazed in wonderment at the spectacle unfolding before my eyes. I felt guilty and ashamed—but not enough to keep me from scrolling, mesmerized, through the idle thoughts of current employees, bikini photos of ex-employees and the minute-by-minute documentation of all these people’s lives.

It would be easy to think, Jesus, who cares? Except that each dispatch—“Just got back from the dentist.” “Psyched for the weekend!!!” “Having ramen for dinner.”—is greeted with a chorus of thumbs-up validating comments.

I felt like Shelly Duvall’s character in The Shining when she discovers the bat-shit crazy stuff Jack Nicholson’s been writing all this time. The horror!

Three weeks rummaging through this dumpster of compromising pictures, coma-inducing reportage and rampant narcissism lead me to these conclusions:

1. People have way too much time on their hands.

2. Facebook is an irony-free zone. It may be a relatively new medium, but it’s about as edgy and cynical as Lutheran Bible camp.

3. Using a Facebook Wall to talk to someone is like using a Predator Drone to conduct diplomacy.

4. When your client, regardless of category or target demographic, asks you whether they should have a Faebook “presence” (the word itself is a dead giveaway), say No.

Regarding the latter, I used to say No without having ever been on Facebook myself. Now I can say No with much greater confidence. And, because I’d never ask a client to do something I wouldn’t do myself, I’m de-Friending?Listing?Booking? myself today.

A new-business koan.

Which is worse: not getting past the RFP stage of a pitch and then seeing the hilariously bad new campaign from the winning agency? Or not getting past the RFP stage of a pitch and seeing the so-good-it-hurts kickass campaign from the winning agency?

The answer:


What, in that stew of facts, could possibly be more relevant to the average parent? Or more exciting to the average child?

Your final exam in Marketing 101 consists of this question:

You need to send out a newsletter to parents and children of all California public schools to let them know of an upcoming event. Here are the pertinent facts:

1) The state has received a $500 million dollar anonymous gift to fund science and math education for every student, K-12, in the state.

2) All teachers, principals, and other administrators will gather next Tuesday in Sacramento to undergo special training for this initiative.

3) Leading scientists and mathematicians from around the world will be in attendance.

What is your headline for the newsletter?

NB: There is only one right answer.

Answer in the next post.

My thanks to Dick and Barbara Holt for supplying me with this wonderful thought experiment.