Friday, January 31, 2014

Purgatory on Culver Blvd.


I know there is an interesting juxtaposition between the green traffic light, the profound bumper sticker and the glowing brake light.

I'll leave you to figure that part out.

But it does speak volumes on the ability of organized religion to induce rational paralysis and stifle the progress of human endeavor.

Perhaps someone could explain why "Don't Care" is in quotation marks?

Have a nice weekend.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Spare change?


I mentioned this earlier in the week, but I'm currently working in West Los Angeles. I'm at a building directly across the street from my lawyers.

Of course, "my lawyers" is a bit of a misnomer. I'm not involved in any litigation, these guys simply rewrite the terms of our living trust every five years or so. To determine which of my two daughters will get the bulk of our estate. I'm pretty sure estate should be in quotes as well.

The terms often rest on who cleans up their room or does the dishes when they are told to.

The bill from the lawyers is often amusing. And not in a good way.

They can charge up to $600 an hour. And they like to itemize the bill in 10 minute intervals.

Faxing copies (1/6th of an hour) ------------------------------------------$100.00
Making coffee (1/6th of an hour) -----------------------------------------$100.00
Billing client (1/6th of an hour)--------------------------------------------$100.00

That's right, they bill me for the burden of billing me. It's all very meta, but what can I do?

Contrast that with a different kind of work ethic I see everyday as I drive by the Home Depot on Sawtelle Ave.

In a perimeter that stretches a quarter mile all around, you will find dozens of undocumented (I'm assuming) workers who literally bum rush any car entering or leaving the Home Depot parking lot. The hope is, that for five or six bucks an hour, they can secure a day's worth of work cleaning drains, hauling furniture, or any other shit job deemed too shitty by lazy Angelenos.

My admiration for these guys knows no bounds.

They are there everyday. They come early (again I'm assuming, cause I don't stroll into my cushy job until 9:30) and they stay late. They run up to any vehicle that looks promising. And they want to work because they need to supplement the income of their wives, who are often cleaning houses for below minimum wages.

They have earned my respect and my empathy in a way some twenty year old slacker standing outside a 7-11 asking for spare change never will.

You want some of my money to buy some tallboys or a bag of weed? Sure, let's go back to my house. I have some prickly palm trees that need trimming.






Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The art of art


What I know about art couldn't fill a thimble. In fact, after filling that thimble you'd still have plenty of room for a big fat Lou Ferrigno-sized thumb.

But after years in the ad business and paling around with art directors, some of their visual acuity must have rubbed off.

Here's why.

Several weeks ago, my wife and I were out shopping for bedroom furniture. We're now in the third year of this five year process. We entered a small shop by the old Helms Bakery, which is now Furniture Central for those affluent enough to live in West Los Angeles. And smart enough not to shop on LaBrea or Melrose.

We didn't find anything we could agree on, but we both gravitated to some artwork we spotted on the walls. With my wife's birthday approaching I thought one of those pieces might make a perfect gift. So I returned to the store, solo, a week later. The store was gone. As in vanished, gone.They couldn't drum up the traffic to sustain the costly retail space.

So I went online and did some digging. I found one of their other locations and tracked down the name of the artist. With a little more research I found his website. And discovered that he lived in nearby Mar Vista.

E-mails were exchanged and before I knew it I was shaking hands with Sean Finocchio, who had graciously invited me to his garage to go through his work.

I selected three of the smaller pieces and think they look great (see above).
Everybody who has been to the house since the prints went up has agreed.

By the way, this was not the first art excursion I've ever made. Years ago, while walking on the boardwalk I spotted some interesting work done by a South African artist who does some three-dimensional pieces. He was charming as well and invited me back to his shabby Venice studio. I bought up some of his work.

I told Sean the story and he immediately snapped, "Fortune? Was the art done by a guy named Fortune?"

It was.
And it turns out he moved to Oakland and now hangs with a more elite class of art buyers, including Queen Latifah.

I'm guessing that the Fortune Sitiole work I now have in my possession is worth considerably more than what I scraped out of my beach short pockets years ago.

With any luck and a little promotion on my part, so will Sean's work.

One more thing. The next time an art director tells me I don't know what I'm talking about, I'm going to suggest otherwise.






Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The F*ck Us Group


You know what this is, don't you?

It's a Focus Group room. My feeling on focus groups are very simple. I'd rather be at a funeral. Even if that funeral were my own.

That's how much I hate them.

Oddly enough, it's not the people inside the group, the ones stuffing their faces with wet tuna fish sandwiches and previously pawed-over M&M's that I detest. Though I do question the sanity of any person willing to give up a good three hours of their life for the opportunity to "critique" a TV commercial and take home $50.

The orange-vested half-wits at Home Depot make more money than that. And all they have to do is wear the veil of efficiency and answer questions with simple two word phrases like, "aisle seven" or "over there."

My greater scorn is for the experts in the foreground, the ones filling their pie-holes with artisanal pizza, gluten-free lasagna and previously pawed-over M&M's. The folks who insist good brand stewardship depends on the opinion of a 34-year old stay-at-home mom who watches Fox News but secretly adores Rachel Maddow's hairdo.

What's worse is these late night mental masturbation sessions usually take place under the watchful eye of the client.

Meaning, that in addition to witnessing work get pummeled by a grab bag of psychographic misfits including Active Motivators, Aspiring Explorers, and Risk-Taking Self Actualizers, one often has to endure the unwatchable pandering that passes for "account management."

The head nodding, the eye winking and the copious note-taking are all enough to make me wish I had pursued a career in lawn maintenance.

Every cretinous comment is dissected and parsed out, and not for meaningful marketing insight. It's all for the purpose of scoring career points.

"See…", a knowing planner will look over to the client, "...that's what I was saying in the briefing session last week."

That's what focus groups are about. Mealy-mouthed careerism. And anyone who says otherwise is simply lying. Or in Focus Group vernacular, they are a Persuasive Dispenser of Misinformation.

My feelings are best summed up by my favorite Anti-Semite Henry Ford, who famously said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

Of course, if further focus groups had been assembled, there would have been much disagreement, many tuna fish sandwiches and millions of dollars wasted discussing the color of these faster horses.






Monday, January 27, 2014

Slave Labor


Spotted on Olympic Blvd. near the office where I am currently working.

The building is across the street from my lawyer's office, where my living will and trust was composed and is now hermitically sealed in a vault. A daily reminder that I am inching closer and closer to the Big Dirt Nap.

I snapped the picture because I never thought of proper spinal maintenance as an impulse buy. So I'm not sure Dr. Feelgood's sidewalk marketing stunt brought in any new customers. But I do know that last week, on this very day, the nation was celebrating Martin Luther King Day and his achievements in the battle for equality.

In the advertising world however, those celebrations were largely ignored.

It was business as usual. That is, plantation-style business as usual. I know I'm guilty of hyperbole and I apologize in advance if I offend, but in light of this nation's unfair wealth distribution, the comparison is not all that unwarranted.

Particularly if you were to rip open a typical advertising holding company 10-K Report. There, you would see the startling and criminal inequality of wages.

The plantation owners…er, company officers are obliged to report their income which start in the 7 digit figures but often roll into 8 digit territory. This is a little misleading as that number also includes the value of certain non-liquid remuneration, such as stock options, private jet usage and five star professional escorts.

Labor, that is, the people who actually come up with the ideas, endure the client abuse, eat the cold pizza, write the code, schlep the foam core boards, sacrifice the weekends, assemble the decks, stitch together the wireframes, re-do the ideas and farm the cubicles, also has to be accounted for in those hieroglyphic 10-K reports.

The total sum of their wages is often buried on a line item that looks like a minor expense to the organization.

Paper Clips/Rubber Bands-------------------------------------.0027%
Labor---------------------------------------------------------------.000000019%

This too is an exaggeration.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, once said, "Our best assets ride up on the elevator in the morning and ride down at night."

Today in advertising, no one sees the employees as assets. And if they do ride up in the elevator in the morning, they don't come back down until sometime the next morning. And those are the slackers.

Mind you, all this excess work is not done for the benefit of the sharecroppers, but for the benefit of the shareholders.

Clearly, what this industry needs is a spirited warrior to fight on behalf of the workers. A Martin Luther King type who is willing to speak the truth, start the dialogue and carry the torch for greater wage equality.

I'd be up for the challenge, but I swam 2000 yards yesterday and my back is killing me.




Thursday, January 23, 2014

The End is Near


I love football.
And in two weeks I will be going through some painful football withdrawal.
Me and about 100 million other men in America.

Oh and 37 women, too.

But there's also a lot to hate about NFL football.

I hate the boorish behavior.
I hate the poor sportsmanship.
I hate the penalties called on defensive linemen because they glanced the quarterback.

I hate the bazillion dollar salaries.
I hate the diamond earrings.
I hate the touchdown dances by receivers or halfbacks even though their team is down 49-13.

I hate domed stadiums.
I hate astroturf.
I hate the portable sideline heaters carted on the field anytime the temperature dips below 40 degrees.

I hate Colin Kapernick kissing his biceps.
I hate Dez Bryant throwing tantrums like a 5 year old.
I hate these superhuman men who can bench press 600 lbs., but can't summon the strength to lift their own water bottles.

But most of all,
I hate to think of what Johnny Unitas would say if he could see what has happened to the game he played in his $7 high tops.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Frank Gehry is in the House.


You know me, I'm not big on fate, the metaphysical or anything remotely associated with the spiritual or supernatural.

The universe is way too mind-blowingly big for any of that nonsense.

But yesterday, while writing a post about the Chiat/Day offices in Playa Vista…er, Los Angeles, my wife was in the other room conducting one of her raucous spring cleans. I know it's the end of January, but here in Southern California the temperature is in the low 80's.

While purposely making lots of noise, to distract me from my blogging, she miraculously came across our Frank Gehry/Chiat/Day teacup set. The cups and saucers feature the sketch Gehry reportedly made on a napkin before designing the iconic Binocular Building in Venice, which used to house Chiat/Day and is now home to the local offices of Google.

The set, two cups and two saucers, was given to us in 1992 in lieu of a Christmas bonus. If memory serves, there was a lot of grousing in the hallways that year.

"Merry Fucking Christmas!"

"Why didn't they just had me ten bucks and call it a day?"

"I knew blowing off my vacation and missing my daughter's birthday party would pay off."

Of course I never participated in that kind of mutinous employee behavior. I swallowed the party line and chose to believe that someday these cheap Chinese-made pieces of ceramic may have some artistic or architectural value.

So I began hoarding them.

Buying sets from disgruntled employees. And pestering HR for any "extras." The picture above only represents half my collection. I still have three other complete sets, in their cardboard boxes, wrapped with a faux-silk band and emblazoned with a Hank Hinton Skull and Crossbones insignia.

Chances are the teacups and the saucers aren't any more valuable today than they were 20 years ago. But my wife is under the overly-optimistic opinion that they may become a family heirloom one day and finance the college education of our future grandchildren.

And that's worth something.






Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Playa Vista 90094


So this picture made its way around the internets last week.

It's a screen grab from the new movie, "HER"and it shows Joaquin Phoenix walking around Amy Adams fictional office.

Those of you who work in advertising, particularly in Los Angeles, will recognize the surroundings as the TBWA Chiat/Day office in Playa Vista. There was a time when only a select few established ad professionals got in the building or made the payroll.

That was before the agency went public and grew exponentially, hiring every kid out of college who had ever touched a banner ad or had some inkling of digital/social media expertise.

It didn't seem to matter whether they knew the legend of Jay Chiat and Guy Day. Or Bernbach's revolution of the '60's that gave birth to west coast creativity.

They were young.
Enthusiastic.
And they could stylishly sport a beanie cap or a tatted sleeve.

Oh, and they were tantalizingly inexpensive.

Today, it's the largest ad agency in LA. An industry juggernaut. You'd be hard pressed to find someone in Southern California who hasn't received a paycheck from Chiat/Day.

Suffice to say the photo brings back memories, good and bad.

The office that I shared with John Shirley is circled in red. It was perhaps the best of all the cell blocks, which was no misnomer, on Main Street.

It was close enough to Lee Clow's office to hear his occasional and always-colorful rants.

"Why the fuck would anybody use Papyrus? I hate that typeface."

But more importantly, it was closest to the exit tunnel.

With one slick move behind the ancient red Datsun that was parked in front of our abode, John and I could dart behind the car and sneak out of the office before 7 PM and the second shift and the arrival of this cold, shitty foodstuff that Californians insist on calling pizza.

John and I were by no means the smartest people in the creative department, but we weren't the dumbest either.



Update: After writing this post, my wife and I went to a crowded theater to watch HER, a movie that examines the often difficult work that goes into maintaining a relationship. I don't know we accomplished it, but through a series of texts from our teenage daughters and some logistical miscommunications, my wife and I were able to have a full blown fight right there in the theater.





Thursday, January 16, 2014

E-A-R-T-H-Q-U-A-K-E!!!


Twenty years ago tonight, my world was quite different.

I was employed as an Associate Creative Director -- most meaningless title ever -- at Team One Advertising. Struggling, like the entire creative staff, to come up with Lexus ideas that would suit Mr. Chikuma. A non-English speaking CMO who looked, and acted, remarkably like Colonel Saito from Bridge over the River Kwai.

Our two story home was merely a one story 1100 square foot California bungalow.

And our two daughters had not yet arrived.

In fact there's a good chance my wife and I had already started our fertility regimen. And the ovulation kit had already been laid out on the bathroom counter. If all the indicators were positive, the morning of January 17th would have been prime baby-making time.  But I'm here to tell you nothing takes the joy out of sex like the temperature-controlled, calendar-driven burden of procreation.

Of course none of that was to be.

Because on January 17, 1994 at exactly 4:31 AM, the previously undiscovered Northridge Thrust Fault decided to start thrusting somewhere along Reseda Blvd.

I literally rolled off the bed as it felt like a train had barreled through my home. A real train, with 4 locomotives and tank cars filled with flammable fuel.

Not one of those light rail sissy trains.

It didn't last long, 20 seconds at most, but long enough for me to believe an atomic bomb had gone off in our all too tiny bathroom. And that we were all going to die. And that I wouldn't get to show Mr. Chikuma the newest concepts.

It should be noted my brain does not function well at 4:30 in the morning. Particularly when I'm huddled with my wife under a doorway for protection and the only thing separating us from the eternal dirt nap is some 1/2 inch plywood and crumbling stucco.

It was only a 6.7 quake but the ground acceleration was one of the highest ever recorded in North America. Causing major damage throughout Southern California.

We were luckier than others. And thanks to FEMA relief money we were able to build a new chimney and replace the ugly sliding doors in our dining room with some previously unaffordable French Doors.

Right now, I'd love to put an office above my garage however the remodeling costs are quite prohibitive. But maybe there's still some life left in that Northridge Thrust Fault. And maybe the Federal government will come by with a blank checkbook. And maybe I can get those soundproof windows that will silence my neighbor's pit bull and my other neighbor's bi-polar late night power tool usage.

A man can dream, can't he?












Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ooooo, Spicy Digital Banner Roll


Radiation emanating from the busted Fukushima Power Plant notwithstanding, I love fresh fish caught in the deep waters of the Pacific.

Salmon, tuna, yellowtail, squid, I'll devour it all.

I love fish so much I won't even wait for it to be cooked. I'll eat it raw like some hairy, barrel-chested grizzly waking up from 4 months of hibernation. By the way, my wife concurs with that description.

It's safe to say we have visited all the sushi restaurants on the west side of Los Angeles.

From the elegant and expensive slivers of fish at K-Zo to the down and dirty casual fare at Yokohama. There was a time we'd take our daughters to West Little Tokyo off Sawtelle Blvd. But now the area has been overrun by Japanese hipsters and their laughable beards. And the oddly dressed harajuku girls.

The eye candy is fun but Japanese kids love to smoke cigarettes. And the stench of burnt tobacco does not complement the fresh, healthy aura of raw fish.

So last week we did something different. We boarded the train at the Expo station. That's not the different thing. We've actually been riding the line since the day it opened. We love being able to go from our home in Culver City to the heart of downtown Los Angeles, which is now experiencing a rebirth with restaurants, museums and a host of new metro stations that reek of urine.

Our destination last week was Kula in Little Tokyo.

Or as some of the locals call it Japangeles.

What sets Kula apart form other sushi restaurants is their conveyor belt. You see they don't employ waitresses, OK they have servers that bring out the drinks, but the food comes rolling by on a conveyor belt in a non-stop wave of delicious and eclectic selections.

Something like this:



Each plate that you remove from the belt cost two bucks. And I'm assuming the stacking of empty plates is meant to discourage over-indulgence. Although it had no such effect at the Siegel booth, where we piled high 22 empty plates.

Should you go to Kula, I'd recommend the velvet smooth Salmon Belly and the equally tasty Blue Fin Toro.

As we left the restaurant, I couldn't help wondering if this unique delivery system could be adapted to the advertising world.

Instead of mountainous decks of storyboards, banner ads and rich media engagement units, perhaps we could simply put each separate idea on a little plate and roll them by the clients on a conveyor belt specifically built for the conference room.

Then, instead of trying ram an idea down their throats….er, I mean selling them a concept, they would be free to pick and choose whatever suited their fancy. After all, clients are fond of Frankensteining ideas, this could be a way of making them pay for the privilege.













Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hurray for Hollywood


Last week I finished a project with Lorraine Bracco. I had hoped to meet in her in person, but sadly all our business was transacted over the phone. Had we been in the same room together I would have held out my iPhone and snapped a Smelfi of the two of us.

Did you see what I did there?

Her iconic character from The Sopranos was Dr. Melfi. So I would have taken a picture of Lorraine and myself and called it a Smelfi.

Can you believe people pay me to write words on a piece of paper?

Perhaps it's best that scenario didn't work out. I'm sure I also would have bored her with the tale of how I was a standing member of her SAG-AFTRA union.

Now, I don't attend SAG meetings.
I don't participate in any of their workshops, "Playing Animal Roles and Being the Squirrel."
And I haven't been on an audition since 1999, where I was edged out of the part, Man on Bus with Newspaper.

And yet every year when that SAG union membership card comes up for renewal I gladly whip out the checkbook. I'm sure there are many non-working, non-interested-in-working fellow thespians out there that can tell you why.

It's the Screeners.

This year, we hit the jackpot. For those of you who are civilians, that's the perjorative term we (and I use the term 'we' lightly) actors like to use about people not employed in show business. Screeners are free copies of movies sent out by the studios in an effort to garner important votes for the upcoming awards season.

For the past two weeks we've been binging on high caliber Oscar-worthy movies.

Including:








There were some other chick flicks in the bunch, but I didn't watch them so they're not worth mentioning.

But the math is worth doing. You see my SAG renewal costs me 108 bucks a year. That's tax deductible, so it's really about $72.

Let's say my wife were able to drag me out of the house and convince me to go to 7 movies.
And let's say the Price of admission-- $13.00

That's:

7 movies (2 tickets each) - $13.00 X 14 = $182
Medium popcorn (7) = $35
Medium Diet Coke (7) (reluctantly shared by two) = $21
Parking (7) = $28
Obligatory (7) late night stops at Junior's deli to discuss why she loved the movie and why I hated the formulaic storytelling, including matzo ball soup, pastrami sandwich and some kugel = $150

That's $108 versus $416.

Not to mention the fact that at home, I don't have to sit next to mouth breathers, loud popcorn eaters, or people who can't track a narrative and resort to playing Words with Friends on their iPhones.

Of course the greatest benefit to watching Hollywood movies from the comfort of my own living room can best be summed up in two lines:


And those of you with poor bladder control know exactly what I'm talking about.






Monday, January 13, 2014

The Path of Least Resistance


I ran into an old friend several weeks ago.
Let's just call him Popeye to protect his identity.

As friends in the ad biz often do, we engaged in a little shop talk.

Who is where. 
That works sucks. 
He's a butthole. 
I got fired from that place.
They fired me, too.

That kind of stuff.

I mentioned to Popeye that I had heard about an interesting job opportunity that he might want to explore. And he started giving it some thought. Thinking aloud he said, "That could be an interesting position. I have the experience. I shower regularly. And I'm good at taking input."

That comment stuck with me.

Not the one about hygiene. The one about input.

I'm not big on input.
In fact, I'm convinced there's too much of it.
Too many cooks in the kitchen.
Too many bureaucratic layers.
Too many people who haven't earned the right to share an opinion, sharing an opinion.

As a result, work has become unfocused. Answering to all constituencies, but satisfying none. If we were smart, and I am implying that we are not, briefing would not be conducted by planners or digital strategists or chief innovation officers. And there would never be a gathering of 10 or more people to sit in a room and watch an "expert" read verbatim from a brief.

If we were smart, we'd sit the creative team down with the CEO -- you know the person who gets to say "yea" or "nay" and have them hash it out for an hour.

Because here's what would happen.

Pressed for time and an upcoming flight to Cleveland to address the shareholders, the CEO would magically blurt out the unique selling proposition. The CEO would have no time for a "deep dive" or a "metric analysis" and a "loop back session." He or she would simply spit out the ONE overriding thought that needs to be conveyed in the commercial or the website or the banner ad or, god forbid, the viral film.

Necessity isn't the mother of invention, brevity is.

The entire painful and laborious process could be short circuited.
The work would get better.
And creatives, like myself, could start looking forward to getting out of bed every morning.

Less input, more output.
That's my motto.



Thursday, January 9, 2014

Allah, not so Akbar








Two weeks ago, an influential bloc of 57 Muslim countries demanded an end to Freedom of Speech here in America. This wasn't reported in The Onion or the Daily Currant or any satirical news source. This is legitimate, as reported in Investors Business Daily.

By the way, these are the same 57 countries that regularly denounce Israel in the UN for its alleged human rights violations while stoning, hanging and regularly butchering their own populace.

The 94-page document, titled "Islamophobia" wants to forbid any material that would suggest Muslims are inclined to violence.

Furthermore, it wants to criminalize any statements that suggest Islam is an inherently expansionist religion.

Keep in mind, this over-reaching document was not written by tongue-flapping, flag-burning, hirsute extremists that are often seen in throbbing mobs on the streets. Or Al Qaeda training camps in Somalia.

This lengthy proposal -- which would obliterate all known notions of sovereignty -- was thought out and written by statesmen, clerics and diplomats, sitting members of the United Nations. You know, the moderates we hear so much about.

If these folks had their way, my incredibly clever and cryptic depiction of Mo-Ham-Ed (seen above) would be a sufficient infraction to have me carted off to a Yemeni jail for the rest of my days.

Now I like falafel and schwarma as much as the next fellow, but I can't subside on those calorie rich foods forever. It puts unsightly pounds on my midsection.

I'm not one of those Fox Newshounds who uses terms like the Lamestream Media or gives any credence to the ridiculous notion that President Obama is in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood, but a story like this deserves more ink than any coverage of Justin Bieber, the Polar Vortex or even the Pope's vision of an enlightened Christianity.

Even though the proposal doesn't stand an infidel's chance in heaven, it is a shot across the bough. It is nothing less than a direct assault on our most cherished right.

Threaten to take away guns and 50% of Americans will be kicking and screaming. But move up the ladder from the Second Amendment to the First and suggest the abridgment of our freedom of speech, you're going to see 100% of Americans with pitchforks and torches in hand. It'll make Black Friday at Walmart seem like a peaceful gathering of Trappist Monks for an afternoon tea.

What's most telling about the document is how it singles out Islam above all other religions. It doesn't seek to ban any criticism of Christianity. Or Hinduism. Or Judaism. The fact is, if you removed the anti-semitic rhetoric from the newspapers in these 57 Muslim countries, you'd have nothing left but the ads for hookahs and burka liquidation sales.

The reasoning is simple. It's because Islam is more than a religion. It is a way of life. It is uniquely intertwined with politics and culture. It is how 1/5 of the planet's population moves through the world.

But here's the flaw in their logic.

The laws of Islam are not universal. And saying they are doesn't make them so.

I'm not Muslim. Nor do I ever intend to be. So I, and chances are you, are not bound by the guidelines set forth in the Quran. And the minute, you, Mr. Sharia-observer seek to enforce your laws on me and other non-believers -- I think you like to call us Kaffir -- well, that's very the definition of expansionism. Moreover, any movement in that direction is certain to raise the specter of violence.

I know a little about religious persecution and have a deep respect for an individual's right to practice their faith. But I won't hesitate, not for one politically incorrect split second, to raise my voice about politics, culture and world views, particularly when those abhorent beliefs bear an uncanny resemblance to 1930's-style Fascism.

If criticizing totalitarianism, the subjugation of women and homosexuals, state-sanctioned anti-semitism, political repression, and violent attacks on African Christians in Mali, Nigeria and South Sudan, makes me an Islamophobe, then yes, I'm an Islamophobe.

If history has taught us anything, we should all be.

That's all I'm going to say on the matter.
I have a bacon cheeseburger coming off the grill.













Wednesday, January 8, 2014

All That Jazz


Last Sunday, HBO aired the final episode of Treme, the story of New Orleans in the months and years following Hurricane Katrina.

I try to limit which TV series I get hooked on. Never saw Game of Thrones. Or got caught up into the Breaking Bad phenomena.

But if writer/director David Simon is involved I'm all in.

My love affair with New Orleans began in 1999.

 We were filming HOME MOVIE, a documentary about eccentric people living in eccentric homes. After an exhaustive research process we located Wild Bill Treacle, a bayou boy who lived on a hand-built houseboat in Cajun country just south of the city.

During the day, often 100 degrees with 110% humidity, we'd film Bill in his swampy surroundings. At night, we'd go back to hotel in the French Quarter and sample the city. We ate like kings. On someone else's dime, no less. We discovered that Bourbon Street was for tourist suckers. And our production crew took us to some of the finer, less known destinations.

Not coincidentally, this was a running gag of Treme.

Years later, I returned to New Orleans to shoot a commercial for Jaguar. Somehow, wink, wink, we managed to get all our filming done early. Giving us ample time to go on a Mint Julepathon.

A $12 artisanally-poured Louisiana mint julep is a thing of beauty. But it goes down even smoother when it can all be expensed back to the Jaguar Motor Company.

Excessive drinking and shady finances were also explored on Treme.

And of course New Orleans is all about incomparable music and the food. And that's what made Treme such an outstanding show. Because it wasn't like watching an episode of TV. It was more like sitting down to a plate full of crawfish, a bucket of ice cold beers and the Pete Fountain band playing onstage.

When it was done, you felt full.

But now that it's over, I'm feeling a little empty.

If you missed Treme the first time, make sure you give it a go when HBO decides to rerun it. Here's one of my favorites scenes.

Consider this a delicious, melancholy appetizer…





Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hello, I'm Mr. Accountability


Last year, at this very time, I was entering a little bit of hell known as the agency review.

I was hired by RP& to help on their defense of the Acura account. The new CMO at American Honda had come in and despite robust sales, declared he was unhappy with the work at RP& and was going to explore other options to "increase sales in exponential terms."

How good were things at Acura at the time?

Well, according to Jeff Conrad, Vice President at Acura Sales, "December (2012) was another month of tremendous sales growth." Adding, "Acura is primed for even more success in 2013."

These are quotes taken from the Honda Media Newsroom.
There will be a lot more from that site later on.

And yet, for all that cheerful optimism, the folks at Acura thought it necessary to shake things up. And so, they changed agencies. Which is definitely their prerogative. Though as a freelancer who had produced more than a dozen spots for RP&, I wasn't so thrilled to see the client go.

We've just closed out 2013, so I was curious to see how that decision played out. And while Adweek and AdAge are busy carrying stories about Vines, innovative open floor seating plans and which agencies employ the most attractive art directors, I decided to engage in a little fact-based journalism.

What I found is nothing less than astounding.

First, let's examine the Year Over Year sales growth for Acura while they were at RP& in the year 2012. I'm not great at making slick charts, so I hope you'll excuse the primitive nature of my handiwork.

June………..20.2%
July………...22.4%
Aug………...28.1%
Sept………...29.9%
Oct…………27.7%
Nov………..27.2%

Dismal, right?
I can certainly understand why the handsomely-paid Acura brass would call for an immediate review and throw RP& and the 100 or so dedicated professionals responsible for such abject failure to the curb.

Now, let's look at the past year, 2013, and the same 6 month time period under the creative management of the new agency.

June………5.5%
July……….7.4%
Aug……….7.7%
Sept……….4.4%
Oct………..5.6%
Nov……….6.8%

I'm no Ben Bernanke, but something seems amiss. The media might choose to ignore this. And the new ad agency will surely put some topspin on it. But I've spent enough time around car dealers -- sadly -- to know they're not interested in brand awareness. Or intention to buy. Or sales funnels. They're interested in moving sheet metal.

Plus, they know how to read a chart better than I do.

And in the words of Ricky Ricardo, "someone has got some splaining' to do."



Monday, January 6, 2014

Out of the Box Eating



It's a new year.
And like a lot of you I'm promising to make changes and create a new me.

Part of that is what I choose to put into my body.

And it's why I've decided to eat only foods that have been grown or killed. It's a simple premise and one that I think I can live up to.

I've battled excess weight my entire life. And have on several occasions been able to get to my optimal poundage of 179. Of course I've never been able to maintain that number, which according to my friends is a good thing. Many of whom commented, "you looked too thin and not very healthy."

I think that had more to do with the Euro-cut suits and pencil thin ties I began to wear. My body was just not built for 32" inch waist dungarees…I'm sorry, jeans.

Also not sure my chosen method of extreme weight loss was the most medically sound.

In the past I would run 3-4 miles a day.
Everyday.
Supplemented by swimming.
Weightlifting.
And the consumption of mass quantities of protein. I swore off all carbohydrates and found myself cracking open cans of tuna for breakfast.

I embraced the ketosis and would often revel at my neon yellow urine.

Of course a routine like that is difficult to maintain. Once I broke down and ate a single rice cake which immediately ballooned in my stomach and added 25 lbs. to my frame.

So now the battle begins again.

I often delude myself by saying, "I'm fat but fit." And there's evidence to support that claim. Last week, we were visiting family in Northern California. At the hotel gym, I took a fitness test on one of the cardio machines. The computer said my fitness level was high and my VO2 max level was 47. Which, as you can see from the chart below, is very good for a man of my age, 43.


I don't want to be fat but fit.
I want to be fit and fit.

So I'm getting back to my Neanderthal roots. If it wasn't butchered or harvested, I'm not eating it.

I wonder what kind of beer the cavemen drank?









Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Root for Kupe

In December, the advertising industry lost two legendary men.

First, there was Jim Schmidt of Downtown Partners in Chicago. I only knew Jim through Facebook. We exchanged commentary on the sad state of our industry and shared many of the same views regarding the decline of creativity and the ruthless rise of financial efficiency.

I suspect if I knew him better we could have had some spirited back and forth regarding his 2nd city and my first, NYC.

Jim's passing was followed by the loss of Mike Hughes. I didn't know Mike either. But I did run into him and his wife at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001. I stopped him on the streets of Park City and introduced myself. He said it was unnecessary since he knew of me and my work.

That floored me.

I was also taken by all the kind words written and spoken on behalf of Jim and Mike in the days following their deaths. And have always found this to be the oddest of practices. How much better it would be if we shared words of appreciation with people while they're above ground.

In that spirit I'd like to share a story about the gruff one, Bob Kuperman.

December of 1997 was quite a festive time at TBWA Chiat/Day in Los Angeles. Arguably, one of the best years in the agency's history. In addition to being named Agency of the Year, we were firing on all cylinders; doing groundbreaking work for every account, including Apple, Taco Bell, PlayStation, Levi's, and ABC.

To show their appreciation, Chiat brass handed out fat bonus checks to employees who had contributed to the agency's success.

I'm sure there are many of you who are new to the business and are unfamiliar with this archaic practice. I suggest you ask your parents or consult Wikipedia about the definition and nature of a "bonus check."

Without disclosing any numerical specifics, my partner and I were given a jaw-dropping bonus. That is until I did the math in my head and realized how the agency would leverage the success and PR bonanza of our ABC campaign to win new business and secure millions in additional revenue.

I was grateful. But I also knew at that particular moment, the stars were aligned in a way they never would again.

It was as if I were a baseball pitcher who had won 25 games in the last year of his contract and was about to face the juicy prospect of free agency.

So I did what I had never done before, I asked for more.

I tiptoed, as much as a girthy man of my size can tiptoe, up to Bob Kuperman's office. He was President of the LA office. I asked if he had a minute. He invited me in and told me to close the door. I thanked him profusely for the end of year bonus. I said as a one time gesture it was incredibly generous.

He, being wise in the ways of negotiation, said, "But."

Then I stammered something about a future and wanting to take on more responsibility, blah, blah, blah.

Kupe knew exactly what I was getting at.

"You want a raise. What number do you have in mind? Tell me." ( He might have added the word asshole, but that was just one of his many NY terms of endearment.)

It was the Sicilian Gambit and it caught me completely off guard.

I didn't have number in mind, because frankly I didn't foresee the conversation going in that direction. I blurted out a number -- probably too low -- and he answered, "Done."

A bonus and a raise.
That in itself would have been plenty.
But then Kupe gave me something even more precious, trust.

"This is your account. You and you partner are the voice of ABC. You get the final say on what goes out the door and what gets on the air. Anybody gives you any shit, you let me know."

I swallowed hard.

"One more thing. Don't fuck it up."

All these years later and that has stuck with me. And what resonates most was Kupe's sense of fairness. Bob did what most in his position never do, he managed downward. He looked out for the employees coming up through the ranks. That is a rare occurrence.

If there's one thing that would improve the current dismal state of the advertising industry, it's not the end of open plan offices. Or shorter hours. Or even higher salaries. It's just a simple sense of fair play.

Kuperman is retired now.
But if he ever got back in the business, I'd work for him a heartbeat.

And there aren't too many people I'd say that about.