These are gone. I’m still here.

I turned 60 today. Thirty six of those 60 years have been spent in The Belly of the Beast, churning out ads.

While the plot lines of this business are as well-worn as an old married couple’s arguments (clients are tasteless/account people are spineless/creatives are clueless), the vocabulary used to express it has changed. Here are 20 terms and names in common use in ad agencies when I started which are no more, thanks to technology, death and consultants: 


Hot type



Copy contact


Double truck




3/4 inch

Slop print




Burke opening

Spec (as a verb)


Above the Line/Below the Line

Elbert Budin

Want to know what these terms mean and too lazy to google them all? Go to, my agency’s blog, for the full rundown.

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You can judge a book by its cover. Unless it’s the digital edition.

A story:

It’s 1955. A carpenter is wrapping up construction of a beautiful new staircase and bannister for a homeowner. The homeowner comes by, admires the carpenter’s handiwork, and then asks him a question: “Hey, Joe, do you know any electricians who know how to install those new TV antenna thingys up on the roof? My wife’s been after me to put one of those things up there and connect it to the new television console we just bought.”

The carpenter says, “Sure. Why don’t I have him drop by tomorrow?”

The next day, the doorbell rings and the homeowner opens the door to find this same carpenter, now outfitted with a ladder, electrical tape and wire cutters rather than saw and drill. “I thought you said you were sending someonewho knows about TV antennas,” the homeowner, confused and slightly irritated, said. The carpenter, who had spent years clambering around roofs, attaching everything from weathervanes to cupolas to (more recently) TV antennas, said to the homeowner: “I did.”

The homeowner looked at the tradesman’s truck parked in his driveway with the words “Joe’s Carpentry” emblazoned on the sides. “Sorry Joe,” the homeowner says. “You’re a great carpenter. But I need an antenna expert here.”

Change the date to 2012, change the new technology to digital advertising and/or social media, change the homeowner into a client, and welcome to the world of full-service advertising agencies.

Clients, desiring to take advantage of a new medium but too unsure of themselves and this unfamiliar new world to judge the actual work or the expertise behind it, are looking out at their metaphorical driveways to see if the word “Digital” (or 2.0, or X or something that sounds like a sixties band, like Virtual Noise) is painted on our metaphorical trucks.

Agencies, who know damn well that an idea is an idea is an idea, and that you craft the idea to be appropriate to the medium it’s in, are trapped. If they point this out to the client, they look defensive. If they don’t, they’re playing in the digital agency’s house. Either way, they lose. And clients lose, too, because any possibility of truly integrated work goes away when the traditional agency and Virtual Noise 2.0 split the account.

This is not to suggest in any way that clients are to blame. Let’s say, to take the homeowner metaphor into the present, you want to go off the grid and convert your home to solar electric power. So you’re the client. Who are you going to use to do the installation–Joe’s Electric who has been your go-to guy for putting in  new outlets and lighting fixtures–or SunStrong, whose motto (printed on all their solar-power trucks) is: “The Next Generation of Power Generation”?


Provenance counts.

Provenance counts in buying art and antiques because the product’s expensive and you’re afraid of being bamboozled. That’s why Gagosian, Christies et. al stay in business.

Provenance counts in buying healthcare because the stakes are so high and the subject matter is so beyond your grasp. So seeing the words New York Presbyterian or Mayo on a surgeon’s lapel pocket are very reassuring.

And provenance has always counted in advertising, where David Ogilvy has won more accounts taking a dirt nap than the rest of us have wide awake and pumped up on Red Bull, fear or other stimulant of choice.

But now it counts more than ever, trumping common sense, experience and trust.

These things have a way of working themselves out over time. No one has wondered for a very long time, as Procter & Gamble must have in the early 50s, whether their ad agencies, grounded in print, radio and outdoor posters, could make ads for TV as well.

And the day will come–trust me on this–when brands will be able to sample their wares via a texted code to unlock the customer’s 3-D printer or makerbot. When that day comes, the words “Digital Branding Strategists” on the business card won’t look so hot anymore.

Silly wabbit. Virtual is so 2012.

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a tale of two spokespeople

The use of celebrity spokespeople in ad campaigns in lieu of a real idea seems to be on the wane, which is a good thing. Chalk it up to the growing sophistication of the audience, which would rather know what their friends and peers think of a product than a bought and paid for shill.

Still, you see them, and if you watch Mad Men, you see them a lot. Especially John Slattery (Roger Sterling) for Lincoln. On paper (or PowerPoint) this looks like a good choice: guy who used to be dusty, now of the moment; solid Establishment type with a rebellious streak; a guy who you could plausibly see behind the wheel of this car (unlike, say, the crazy-ass choice of Tiger Woods for Buick a few years back).

But what a waste. Basically, they use Slattery as the world’s most expensive extra and hand-model. He has almost no lines. We see him in the distance, in shadow, from behind–like he was in a Witness Protection program, not starring in a TV commercial. Here’s a few examples:

Who is that guy? What is he hiding?

That very tiny man on the left would be Roger.

Underexposure is not Sam Waterston‘s problem in the TD Ameritrade campaign. He is the campaign–him and a big honking logo. No, his problem is that the company’s owner, Joe Ricketts, was revealed to be a batshit-crazy, hate-mongering wingnut. Eager to join such great Americans as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, Ricketts was ready to open up his checkbook to run a rancid screed linking President Obama to Rev. Wright–a spot so noxious and inflammatory that even Mitt Romney felt compelled to condemn it (after the storyboard was leaked to the New York Times).

In a delicious reversal from the usual order of things, client bad behavior was dinging the spokesperson’s brand rather than the other way around. A brief read of Waterston’s bio suggests that he himself is sane, educated and moderately progressive in his views. And his other advertising activities include work for the Nation. Waterston, obviously recruited to TD Ameritrade as the rock-ribbed symbol of virtue and probity, must have had his lawyers looking closely to see if there was an escape clause in his contract last week. Even in these morally ambivalent times, this cannot be what he signed up for .

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Quaeda-gram? Jihadify?

Maybe not the most useful, but certainly the most amusing thing to emerge from the cache of documents recovered by the Navy Seals from Bin Laden’s compound after the raid, was his attempts to rebrand Al-Queda with something a little spiffier and more appealing.

Al-Queda, after all, means “The Base,” as in military base. Hardly the Big Tent name needed for such a many-tentacled death cult. Many is the briefing session I’ve sat through where it was explained that Organization X isn’t just in the _______  business anymore; now we’re part of people’s lives in so many ways! Let’s capture that in the new name. Etc. Etc. Etc. Well, same here.

Osama Bin Laden, in his duel roles as CEO/CMO, helpfully wrote both the brief and the creative response. Here are some of his proposed new names for Al-Quaeda, with some comments and concerns from me–understanding full well that I am not the targetaudience:

Jama‟at nasr al-Islam wal-aksa
[Support of Islam and Al-Aqsa Group]

This feels a little wishy-washy to me…it’s a lot more than “support,” isn’t it?

Jama‟at i‟adat al-khilafat al-rashida 
[Restoration of the Caliphate Group]

Nice but I’m concerned the historical references may go over the audience’s heads.

Jama‟at wihda al-Muslimin 
[Muslim Unity Group]

Short and punchy, but in English the acronym would be MUG.

Net, I’m not sure they’re “there” yet. But as an American, I like the fact that they’re obsessing over this stupidity. Our own experience is that when powerful brands go down this road, it rarely ends well. New Coke, anyone?

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Teamwork? More like reamwork.

Anyone who admires Jeff Goodby is pretty much OK by me. So I’m not here to talk smack about Joel Ewanick and I’m not rooting for Commonwealth, his cobbled-together Franken-agency for Chevrolet’s global account, to fail.

Why? Because, while the comparison is inviting, it’s not Enfatico, the much reviled “agency of the future” assembled for Dell that, like that client’s product, was ugly, unloved and under-powered. George Parker beat that shop like a mule, and rightly so.

Also: because I don’t want anything bad to happen to Goodby.

The thing that fascinates me about Commonwealth and other attempts of this sort is the extent to which clients do not understand the feral, foam-at-the-mouth loathing that agencies forced into the yoke of “teamwork” have for one another.

I used to think it was arrogance. Years ago, when I was a creative director on AT&T’s consumer business at Ayer and McCann had the B2B and FCB had direct marketing, we would periodically all be summoned to client HQ to be briefed on jump-ball projects. It was like the holding area in a cock-fighting arena.

The clients droned on with their presentations, oblivious to the stink-eye flying around the room. Did they not see? Did they not care? My assumption back then was the client believed buckets of revenue trumped petty rivalry, so get with the program.

I don’t think Joel Ewanick is that stupid, or arrogant. I think clients, who succeed in large companies by their ability to work in teams and build consensus, just do not understand, at a visceral level, that agency luminaries succeed by building personal mystiques, owning famous work, and/or wearing signature outfits. Not, like Jeff Goodby and Joe Garcia, by doing public trust-falls into the arms of their frenemies.

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Welcome to the Machine

Us, and them 

and after all, we’re only ordinary men

–Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon”

Well, it’s not as exciting as Megan tidying up the ruins of last night’s party in her undies, but the scene in last night’s “Mad Men” season premier in which Don failed to go to bat for Peggy’s Heinz creative work certainly got my attention.

First: good for Peggy to try to do something other than the expected bite-and-smile formula for a food product.

But shame on her for substituting a technique (high-speed macrophotography) for an idea, which the dancing bean campaign conspicuously lacked.

And shame on Don, who was too busy thinking about Megan’s undies the new airline account, for not killing it before the client meeting.

Be that as it may, Peggy had her selling shoes on in front of the Pittsburgh posse, to little avail. Don’s lame “I hope you’re as excited about this work as we are” line as he arrives late to the meeting does nothing to change that. And when the Heinz guys begin the death-by-a-thousand-cuts, Don’s silence is deafening—and infuriating to Peggy.

Peggy, Peggy, Peggy….welcome to the machine. Don used to be Us. Now he’s Them—agency management that looks at Heinz and sees a mortgage payment, not an idea-killer. Don’s not building his portfolio anymore…he’s buying snow-white wall to wall carpeting to zooba-zooba on.

Peggy doesn’t know it, but she’s in the sweet spot of her career: as a creative supervisor, she’s senior enough to make an impact, work on the best briefs (letting Megan do the coupons), and see them through to presentation. Yet she can remain pure. She has no payrolls to meet, no office rent to pay, no client CEO to answer to (at least directly).

In modern big-agency hierarchy, this sweet spot lasts approximately through Group Creative Director level. Once Executive or—God forbid—Chief becomes part of your title, the dancing beans go back in the can and life becomes much more complicated. Yes you make more money. Yes you have more power.

But you have Peggy’s eyes, bright with fury and disappointment, boring into you.

Thanks for the support, asshole.

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Maybe if you play with the rabbit ears it will get better.

There’s a new empathy-building exercise that doctors, physical therapists, and others who deal with the elderly do to help them better understand what it’s like to be old–at least physiologically. It involves things like goggles that restrict their vision, ear muffs, weights on their shoes and clumsy-making gloves. Pretty clever idea, actually. But if they really wanted to enhance the experience, they would also ask participants to watch “Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood” on CBS on, well, Sunday morning.

The show itself is the antithesis of modern visual style. The camera is still. the frame is uncluttered. People talk in quiet, measured tones and tell their stories in leisurely fashion. Everyone behaves properly and is appropriately attired. There are profiles of nice people and pictures of nature.

Hello? Are you still with me? Would you rather watch something that involved death, despair, generational squabbles about money, and unfulfilled sexual situations? That would be the commercials on this show. In one pod, you might see  advertising for Cymbalta, Flomax, , reverse mortages, estate planning, United HealthCare and a spirited defense of the dead-tree version of the New York Times.

Now obviously, these advertisers are all here for a reason–they’ve come for the Early Bird Senior Special–but the cumulative effect for the audience has to be depressing. And (to borrow from the hilarious Direct TV campaign) when you’re depressed, you stay in bed. When you stay in bed, you get bed sores. When you have bed sores, you get cast as a zombie on The Walking Dead. When you get cast as a zombie, somebody sticks a hunting knife in your skull.

Don’t wind up with a hunting knife in your skull. Watch cartoons on Sunday morning.

  1. Ask your doctor if Cymbalta is right for you.

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Just when you thought it was safe to work on P&G

P&G Finds Orange Ads Work Better on Facebook | Digital – Advertising Age.

Four down. Only 23 to go!

When the Weiden & Kennedy Old Spice campaign hit, it was a bittersweet moment for me. I worked on Procter business for almost 15 years, during the dark ages when they called advertising “copy” and storyboards lived or died on a day-after-recall test score. I had already moved on to other clients (and different kinds of problems) when P&G started to evolve creatively over the last few years–going to Cannes, freshening up their agency roster, doing better, simpler, more visually oriented work. Then the Old Spice Man happened and I could taste the green bile of envy in my mouth: If only P&G was this open-minded back when I worked on the business…

Well, maybe not so much. Companies, like people, revert to type over time. In Procter’s case, that means the overpowering desire to turn creative into a quantitatively-driven, repeatable, predictable process. In my day, that meant dealing with canards like “You need to mention the brand name 4 times during the 3o seconds, and within 4 seconds from the beginning.” Now, thanks to the continuous feedback loop which is the internet, it’s much, much, more granular:

“For about a year, Pantene has been using such a system, Smart Media, developed with Resource Interactive, Cincinnati. Smart Media analyzes click-through rates and flash surveys on purchase intent across numerous permutations of ads and placements.

The program evaluates three creative elements (the headline, hair visual and background color), and Pantene makes changes based on how different combinations of each element perform in various media placements.

The brand makes discoveries that inform future creative. Those have included that white backgrounds don’t work well on Yahoo, orange is effective on Facebook and blondes get a better response than brunettes on some sites.”

Personally, I’d rather stick knitting needles in my eyes than face a future of letting every single variable in an ad I create be “optimized” in this way. But that doesn’t make me right. It makes me, at this point in my career, someone with the luxury of choice. Procter is seeing gains in all their metrics by following this methodology, and I have no reason to doubt it. Google, everyone’s favorite cool tech company besides Apple, does everything this way. Every word, every color, every pixel of white space in a Google interface has been “designed” by sheer computational force. While I doubt that is true of their wonderful advertising yet (because if it did, I’d have to kill myself), give it time.

Meanwhile, if you’re a youngish creative with a headhunter texting you about a great job working on P&G at Publicis, think about this: 1 banner ad with 3 different headline options, 3 different background colors and 3 different head shots=27 layouts.

Have fun.

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Sharing is work.

No one would ever confuse me with one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Connector types. I’m not a schmoozer and I dislike blurring the boundaries between personal and business, much to my own detriment no doubt.

But let me state this plainly: sharing is work. I look at the pyroclastic flow of Tweets from that Mashable guy and I just get exhausted. And a little sad.

Last weekend I was a bachelor because Lindsay was visiting my daughter in DC. So I decided it would be my weekend of being digitally social. I would be multi-platform, synchronous, dynamic and engaged.

First I decided I would Tweet (I’ve had a Twitter account for a month, totally inactive). But about what? And to whom? And if I riff on someone else’s stuff, how do I keep the url of that person’s Tweet or post or whatever from hoovering up half of my 140 characters?

Also, if I Tweet, do I tell people about it on my blog? Or is it the other way around–tell people on Twitter I just added a blog post? And does that show up on Facebook? Should it?

Now my agency has a blog and a Twitter feed. Am I supposed to keep them all separate? Isn’t that the virtual equivalent of being schizoid?

Look, here’s an interesting article. Do I hog it for myself to RT on my own Twitter account? Do I take one for the team and send it to Seiden?

Are there people you can hire who will spend all day on Google looking for the urls you need to link your references?

I mean, who wants to do that? That’s worse than digging fence posts.

At least when you’re digging fence posts, your mind is free to wander.

Spending your day staring at 4 open, blinking dashboards, wondering how to parse your thoughts into packets to disburse into these gaping maws, is like putting your brain through a potato ricer.

And one more thing–there’s absolutely nothing refreshing about refreshing your page.

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Skechers saw how it would end. And it wasn’t even halftime.

Am I the only one who noticed the amazing similarity between the Skechers dog turning around at the end and sauntering across the finish line, and Ahmad Bradshaw’s eerily parallel move?

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