Been a long time since I wrote about advertising. Why then is my blog called Gods of Advertising if I’m not writing about it? Well, for starters, what is there to write about? From a creative perspective, advertising became irrelevant around the time I did. You can quibble over the year and other details, perhaps cite a few exceptions, but you cannot deny the fact that few consumers (aka people with money to spend) pay advertising any heed. Save for the bottomless pit of transactional messaging permeating our screens, there isn’t much to write home about. Hasn’t been for years. I would say that 75% of every marketing dollar is spent on cliché’ ridden, data driven crap. Creativity in advertising was sick way before Corona virus. Now, it’s on life support.

Not long ago, the so-called Gods of Advertising (always meant to be an ironic term) wishfully opined that the key to remaining relevant in the digital age (let’s say turn of the century) was in mastering social currency. Fearing obsolescence, big shot creative directors like myself and planners and other alleged ad-ninjas went to places like Hyper Island to learn the magic of these new tinier screens and the people who used them. Unfortunately, the bean counters beat us to the punch. Big data replaced the big idea and, well, here we are. There’s more to it than that but I don’t want to write about it any more than you want to read it.

When I unceremoniously exited the business, the writing was on the walls. It sure as hell wasn’t on the page. Copy had turned to content. Strategy became a numbers game. Art directors made shit fast… or else. The result: the aforementioned cliché ridden, data driven transactional crap – also known as content.

For years, I avoided talking this talk because I wanted to believe otherwise. And I was afraid of becoming unemployable. Happened anyway. Now I don’t care and neither does anyone else. I still enjoy writing for clients but for them a big idea is merely converting a strategy line into something they can use until the next quarter rolls around. I’m good at it. And I work fast and cheap. What we all appreciate is the lack of illusion about what we are doing.

Fact. Most clients think Cannes is a sexy place to go on vacation. Period. Where James Bond movies are filmed. Some may remember a celebration of creativity. Like holiday parties. Or bonuses. The mythical Gold Lion is now extinct. Mine are in a storage unit in San Rafael.

You know what? I don’t care anymore. Deep down I wonder if I ever did. I always knew I was getting paid a shit ton of money for doing something intuitive and fun. Once those two criteria were removed –as they have been- all that remained is all that’s left.

Once upon a time, poets were considered special. They had currency. Were celebrated, studied, emulated and revered. Then they faded into the middle pages of the New Yorker. Once upon a time, from 1965 until 2005, (a mere 40 years!), creativity actually mattered. It was like the poetry of yore. And then no one gave a shit about it either.

Not so gentle reader – Would you like me to squeeze the sour grapes further? Relish the whine of discontent? Let me know… I’m in a mood.

Why Are You Here?

December 11, 2020

He was “a piece of shit junkie.” His words. Clean almost a year Jake begins a harrowing lead. His entire family are addicts (active or dead) and, not surprisingly, he had started using early in life, in the 5th grade, whatever he could get his hands on: weed, booze, cocaine, meth… Then he tried heroin. And like so many others before him, junk quickly became the apex predator of his body and soul. The warm embrace was a python. It did not let go. He tried to free himself from its grip; spent nine months in rehab, only to get loaded within days of his release. “It was the same as ever,” he said, “only worse.” Jake’s mother, a methadone addict, gave him a piece of advice based on her experience: “Just stop trying, son. It ain’t worth it.”

Remarkably, he did not listen to her. Instead, he took the “rock star cure” and spent a brutal week detoxing at the Four Points Sheraton. Luckily, Jake had some friends left in the world. From the hotel, they drove him to a rehab and this time it stuck – so far anyway, one day at a time. Jake credits the facility’s emphasis on AA for getting him this far.

As is custom, he must now choose a topic for the group’s discussion. “Why are you here?” He asks.

Great fucking question, capturing the long-term implications of sobriety as well as its immediacy. This meeting. This evening. When you share you typically respond to the speaker’s lead rather than the suggested topic. This time you answer the question:

“It was 7:40 pm, the sun was setting, my family was out doing their thing, the dogs were asleep on the floor. I was alone. I had a few hundred dollars, a car, my laptop, and my phone. I had everything I needed to get into all kinds of trouble. I didn’t want to drink or get high but I wanted something. Desperately. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was… I never can.”

The Big Book calls it being “restless, irritable and discontent.” Yearning caused by the hole in your soul; something you used to fill with vodka and pills. Sober a long time now, there is still a cavity with a drain at the bottom and its pull is intense. You reckon with yearning every day and especially at night. AA suggests you ask God to remove its power, its gravitational pull, to fill yourself up with Him. God released you from the bondage of drugs and alcohol. Therefore, he can release you from the bondage of self.

“Alas, I’m not the praying kind,” you tell the group. “When the yearning washes over me I need to do something tangible. I need a safe place to go, a lifeboat. I need this group. That is why I am here.”

Solitude & Devotion.

November 28, 2020

It could be worse…

Soft and feminine, you adore it. It has become your companion. Palpable. Serene. Lovely. You have a long-term relationship with solitude, which almost never gets old. So many people abhor solitude, likening it to loneliness, depression and even madness. Especially women, who feel others in ways you’ll never understand.

Like many parents, Sarah fears the impending emptiness of her nest. She’s not sure you’ll be in it. And neither are you. But that was the least of it. The girls. They are her everything. And soon they will be gone. Remy was in college and the other two right behind her. The girls. Sarah answered to their endless chirping like a calling. She lived deeply in their experiences, feeling every bruise, celebrating all victories, and worrying herself sick. How would she ever replace that? With you? Please.

For you, it would not be an empty nest. It was solitude.

There will always be a wall between you and devotion. You built it for protection against cruelties, both real and phantom. Over time, the mortar hardened. Now, it was virtually impenetrable. Like your father, you eventually surrendered to the fact that intimacy would never come to you the way it did for others. And like your dad you found a way to compensate. You became an underwriter. Enabling your family to have deep and fantastic experiences, even if you couldn’t.

The Acorn

November 16, 2020

On the last day of your senior year in high school you broke a rule by wearing shorts. The Principal called you out for the infraction, stopping you in the hallway. The details of your exchange are lost in time but you most certainly had been disrespectful. Whatever the case, he ended up banning you from the graduation ceremony. A harsh blow, but hardly the first one the school had dealt you during your tenure. Thankfully, it would be the last. Good riddance. Your mother was upset by the news. Maybe she cried. Maybe she took your side. You don’t remember. It was a long time ago. However, you do recall your father’s reaction. “Good,” he had said. “Now I don’t have to go.” You were relieved that he hadn’t gotten mad. But was it also possible that you’d been hurt by his indifference to your banishment (and by proxy his). After all, had you not been banned from the ceremony your father would have been forced to attend. At the time you viewed it as a win: neither of you sitting in the hot sun waiting for a piece of paper. But shouldn’t a father want to go to his son’s graduation?

The acorn does not fall far from the tree. Having three children, you too are put off by the myriad events you were made to attend. Parent-teacher conferences. Recitals. Soccer matches. Graduations. You were ambivalent about going to any and all of them. Sarah hated this about you. “Why must you only think of yourself?” She asked a million times. As time wore on, she would become even more direct: “You’re going, whether you like it or not.”

And go you did. Sometimes grumbling, rarely happy about it, always happy when it was over. You have wondered about this attitude. Many times. It’s not that you didn’t want your children doing these things you just didn’t want to do it with them. It was nerve wracking watching Remy hammering away at the piano or Callie being bested on the soccer field. Worse was enduring the other children. That was the opposite of entertaining. What did Oscar Wilde once say? Hell is other people’s children. They bored you to annoyance.

But you went. Dutifully. You have Sarah to thank for this.

After joining AA, you learned to name your character defects and that your principal sin was one of self-centeredness. Early on, you recall a member’s lamentation about drinking in his car while his daughter played the cello. How low can one go? He asked the group. Join the club you wanted to say. It went without saying.

Your upbringing demanded that you become self-sufficient. Your difficult surroundings forced you ever deeper into your head, where you created fantasies to offset the growing fears and frustrations of the outside world. You became introverted and built your life around it – it being you. Reading, writing, collecting butterflies, drawing comics, even masturbating; by the time you started using drugs and drinking the die had been cast. You put yourself first because in your mind no one else ever would. You had ample evidence to support this view. Your parents abandoned you. Friends betrayed you. Girls were beyond you.

You have covered this territory before: in therapy, in AA, in your writing, in your head, ad nausea. Even during your darkest hours, you knew better. That’s why you intervened on yourself, joined AA. What you hadn’t counted on was “better” meaning selfless. You desired to be a better husband and father but you couldn’t let go of your will. Despite everything, you admired your wits and what they had wrought. In AA, you heard people attack such pretenses over and over but… There was always but. Needless to say, untangling yourself from your self has proven to be tricky. A lot more tricky.

Even so, there is much to celebrate. You are not so angry anymore. You are responsible, law-abiding, and paid your taxes. You do not feel cheated by the world or anyone in it. Though you know the world is unfair you also realize that this is why you are still alive and not a drunken statistic. If life were fair you’d be dead. You are grateful for what you have. You are sober.

Every day you do something physical, something spiritual and something for your brain. You have your set of unwise and unhealthy behaviors but it soothes you. It could be worse.

But the calm always seems conspicuous. Can you maintain it? Will another front arrive? The questions buzz like mosquitos, disturbing the peace. What now?

Read Me, Seymour!

October 3, 2020

Author Unknown

You’ve written three novels. After years of toil, most of it pleasurable (an apt definition of writing), enduring countless maybes, the quite interested and even an option from Hollywood, you ended up self-publishing. Not the happy ending you envisioned, with heady book tours and glowing reviews on myriad websites. But parking your books on the computer like an old tax return? No fucking way.

“Years of effort” is actually an understatement. You’d spent decades on these novels. High art or not you knew they were high concept. Your first, The Last Generation imagined a world bereft of children, slowly dying out. Yet, and this was the kicker, nothing else was wrong. For the remaining shrinking population, life simply went on. What does this last generation do with itself? Your marketing line: It’s not the end of the world, just the end of us.

Your second novel is a modern fable about God and advertising, The Happy Soul Industry. In it, God, frustrated by a world lacking belief, puts an angel on earth to find an ad agency in order to market spirituality. In the third act all hell breaks loose.

Your third story, Sweet By Design is a romantic comedy (!) about a disillusioned gay man and an aging female socialite, brought together on an improbable road trip.  This one you wrote to prove you could be whimsical and, being honest here, entirely commercial. Whatever your motivations and inspirations, you never worked harder in your life than on these three books. In doing so, you developed a keen appreciation for even the shoddiest novels at the airport bookstand. Readers who weren’t writers would never comprehend, couldn’t possibly, the effort required to scribe 300 pages of anything. Thinking. Rethinking. Writing. Rewriting. Losing weeks of content. Fighting demons. Overcoming doubt.  And then, when you honestly thought it was finally done, the painful discovery of a typo on the very first page, then another and another, a repeated paragraph – How did that happen?  How many more things were wrong?

To be continued…

(If interested in any of these books please click on the links right side of this blog!)