You can’t hide, why bother?

The spike. That moment when a measurement goes crazy, registering pressure, size or magnitude. Something big is happening. Something wicked this way comes. And so it was yesterday for the Gods of Advertising…

Returning from the gym, I open my laptop to my blog, the latest post on the Mcgarrybowen advertising agency. I have a couple comments waiting, which is typical. However, one is a ping from none other than Agency Spy. To quote George Jetson’s dog, Astro: “Ruh-Roh.” I don’t think I need to introduce any of you to this muckraker of marketing. I’ve been in the crosshairs of Agency Spy before. Once, they championed a post I’d written (a rarity), the other time not so much. Then I was a shit and the comment flies came out in droves.

Impulsively, I check the stats on my blog’s dashboard. And I see the spike, a gargantuan one, towering above last week’s numbers like the Burj Dubai. Gods of Advertising has a modest following. On a given day, I might get 600 visitors. On this day the number is triple that and growing. I don’t have a choice; I go to Agency Spy. I find it, second down on their list of “Odds and Ends.”

Euro RSCG alum Steffan Postaer equates McGarryBowen to Tim Tebow. Please, make it stop.

Granted, the “make it stop” hangs there like poop on the fur of a dog’s ass. But still, only one line. And yet my blog’s traffic has more than tripled.


“The Spike”

Most agency leadership teams squirm at even a mention of Agency spy or George Parker’s Adscam/The Horror! Don’t go there. Don’t talk to them. Ever! It reminds me of our government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military. Among other things, it’s naive. I know for a fact plenty of agency leaders visit these sites. How could they not? It might come smothered in crap and surrounded by flies, but sites like these post news at the speed of word-of-mouth. Sometimes they even make news.

Agency silverbacks like to say that only kids, morons and malcontents go to these sites. Hmmm. I’ve heard that said about “American Idol” and “Perez Hilton.” To paraphrase David Ogilvy: they are not a morons; they are your wife. Pretending Spies of the world don’t exist is, in my view, dumb and out-of-touch. Like when a company tries to “control a message.” News flash: The age of the press release is over. Like it or not, corporate strategy (for agency and client) must be what I’m calling relentlessly transparent. Choose otherwise and you pay a price. Calling bullshit is the new normal, the critical offspring of authenticity.


George “Adscam” Parker, calling bullshit on Adland…

I knew my post would draw criticism. But so what? That’s a good thing. Just like the traffic it created. That’s the so-called “conversation.” I don’t believe agencies can tell clients to embrace new media (and its sensational and scary byproducts) unless we do so ourselves. Hypocrisy otherwise.

I don’t like attacking people or spreading gossip. That makes sense for me. But I will tip sacred cows and I do make plenty of mistakes. When I do, you tell me and I adjust accordingly. We have a conversation.

I’m pretty sure that’s how smart brands need to behave with their consumers as well. (If they want to keep them, anyway.) Not fearful and controlling. But open and inviting. Lord, I know it sometimes hurts. But you develop a thick skin. You learn how to react. More and more being hated on seems less offensive than being labeled a shill. For me, for you, and for brands. Strange as it may sound, I learned a lot of this from Agency Spy.

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The “comfortable” agency? More like comfortably ahead.

You’ve got to hand it to agency McGarry Bowen. They just keep winning business. After reeling in a big piece of the Sears account a couple weeks ago they followed it up this week by catching all of Burger King.

Not to kill the fishing metaphor but this monstrous haul is no fluke. McGarry Bowen has been on a winning streak for years. Maybe even since their inception in 2002. According to Wikipedia, in 2008 MB was the largest independent advertising agency in New York. Clearly, those numbers will have to be revised.

The paint was hardly dry in its Chicago office (2007), when they began pulling in account after account, namely from Kraft Foods and often at the expense neighboring agencies, including mine. It seemed they were winning new business every week, and this during the height of the recession.

What gives? Was this seemingly innocuous babe born of the devil? Not likely. Lord knows there’s nothing naughty about their work. Even their relatively edgy “Don’t be Mayo” campaign for Miracle Whip was pretty straightforward when you got right down to it: vignettes, music, supers. Old school.

And indeed principals, John McGarry (Chief Executive Officer), Gordon Bowen, (Chief Creative Officer) and Stewart Owen (Chief Strategic Officer) are as old school as they come: Y & R guys from New York. In addition, many on the management team in Chicago grew up where I did, at Leo Burnett. All these guys are old enough to remember The Brady Bunch and the ads than ran on it. Who said advertising is a young man’s game?


John McGarry: “Dag Nabbit, I’m good!”

So, what’s their secret? I know CEO’s from every agency in America are dying to find out. I’ve heard some theories, one being that the founders are totally committed to relationship and brand building, notions that most every other firm considers antiquated and even trite. Are they? Here’s what the inimitable George Parker had to say about it on his controversial and popular blog, Adscam/The Horror:

“Perhaps all the fucktards out there (aka Big Dumb Agencies) pontificating about how they are social douchnozzeling and friending, tweeting, liking, whatever, should wake up and realize that having gone around the track a few times on all this communicator – conversationnozzle – shit… What they (clients) really need is a fucking ADVERTISING AGENCY!”

For the entire new century the hippest agency on earth has been Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. And rightly so. Their winning streak of both business and creative awards was unsurpassed. (I even called them the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our time.) Until now. Whether I was right or wrong, CP&B lost the Burger King account to McGarry Bowen.

Does this signify a changing of the guard? If ever two agencies were polar opposites it’s these two. Avi Dan, in a piece for Forbes, stated,

“maybe post-recession clients are not in a gambling mood. McGarryBowen is the ultimate safe choice. Sort of the advertising version of “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.”

I’m not going to editorialize; I admire both agencies. But I’m pretty sure only one of them is hiring right now. My take: MB and CP&B balance each other out. Like yin and yang. Maybe shops versed in both schools are where it’s at, places like Goodby and Wieden.


Think he’s too old to create?

Derek Walker, who is “the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.,” wrote an entertaining essay this week in AdAge entitled, Ad Agency Dinosaurs Are Not Extinct; We Are Adapting.

Being four decades and change myself, I can appreciate Derek’s take on the Logan’s Run mentality permeating our business. (In the movie everyone turning 30 is killed to preserve society. Or some shit. I forget the details.) Derek paints a picture whereby a “digital asteroid” supposedly kills off all the oldsters in Adland, leaving just twenty-something’s in control. I say ‘supposedly’ because Derek refutes that perception. To the under-thirty, who claim digital superiority, he writes:

“You just can’t see it now. You misjudge how deep our talents and abilities run. You’re too busy laughing and ridiculing us. But understand — please take a moment to grasp — that for my fellow dinosaurs and myself this digital age is no killer asteroid. It is like a new hunting ground has opened up. And the prey is so unaware of how dangerous we are. They don’t even run away anymore. Digital has not destroyed us. It has exposed a whole new hunting ground.”

Like I said, it’s a fun piece. And it’s about time someone wrote it. Save for one or two brave rogues (God bless Bob Greenberg and yes, God bless George Parker), most ad industry folks really do obsess over the topic. Call it Youth in Advertising.

Or, better yet, call it bullshit. This idea that only kids understand –really get- digital is just fucking lame. Look at Hollywood…from behind the cameras. Since the beginning, rich, old fucks have been making films for punk-ass kids and the kids eat it up. Yet, only the actors belong in their peer group. Chances are the creators are 50 plus. No one calls James Cameron a dinosaur. He seems to get the technology thing. And putting aside Sanctum, he knows how to tell a story. Something too many kids in Adland can’t do, or even more unnervingly, won’t.

So, why is ageism so rampant in advertising? My theory: we’ve coveted the 18 to 34 demographic for so long we’ve subconsciously accepted them as our superiors. I myself have romanced the child-like wonder of creation, gleefully calling the creative department Romper Room. But staying in touch with your inner child does not mean you have to be one. They are not our superiors. In fact, in many cases they are vastly inferior. Consider the following:

People under 30 get Asian tattoos on their arms and think it makes them look badass. People under 30 think paying money to see dopes spin records is a concert. People under 30 pay money to see dopes spin records. People under 30 grow beards. Inexplicably. People under 30 make fun of ironic tee shirts yet they wear them anyway. People under 30 think making fun of shit they do makes doing it less stupid. Like wearing ironic tee shirts. Like growing beards. Like getting Asian letters tattooed on their arms. They think comic books are books. They think video games are important. They think that they think. And yes, these same people think they know how to make creative better than we do.


Chinese for douchebag

Well, on behalf of every creative director old enough to remember the Avid (let alone cutting film with a blade), I say Bravo Derek Walker. 40 isn’t the new 30. It just might be better. Um, except for having to get a colonoscopy. That sucks.

Finally, I know people under 30 like to hate anonymously (Man, do I ever), so have at it, boys and girls! Next post back to acting my age. That means less cussing and I can’t use the word “badass.”

Out of the mouths of babes…

Along with editorial about the nefarious side of our industry, the inimitable George Parker (Adcam/the Horror!) often posts sexy photos of supermodel, Kate Moss. English and silly; it’s like page 3 in the UK’s Daily Star, which is devoted to topless women. This is but one of the reasons why Parker’s blog is so popular.

The other day Parker had a story to go along with the photo of Kate. Apparently, Miss Moss was asked if she had any favorite mottos. She replied: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” According to Parker, she took some heat for saying it. Promoting anorexia in young women, etc…

Moral implications aside, as a piece of copy, I love this saying. For all the back and forth on dieting and body image, Kate’s axiom hits the sweet spot, or soft spot, depending on your point of view. The statement is persuasive in the extreme. It rings true (even if it isn’t.) It motivates. It’s a great line.

Given I recently wrote about annoying phrases we could do without, it seems only fitting I write about pieces of language that still hold their power. Sentences like that are pretty special; they don’t feel manufactured or repurposed. True or not, I feel as though Kate made this one up herself. And I say to myself: ‘Ah, that’s it. Now I know how and why supermodels stay thin.’

During an interview about new business pitches, I once made the following statement: “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.” I’ve since heard it used before. Yet, at the time, I felt I’d come up with it. Both lines (mine and Kate’s) are great reminders at how powerful the human language can be.

Ernest Hemingway was obsessed with making sure every sentence he wrote was perfect. Subsequently, most of them were. But once in a while schlubs like me, or Kate Moss, get it right as well.

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Chicago: “We wuz robbed!”

I’m with Kevin Lynch. I didn’t want the damn games anyway. Or should I say I didn’t want to pay for them. Anyone who lives here knows that making good on Mayor Daley’s promises can be costly. A 2016 Chicago Olympics would have created the Mother of all Overages. Our taxes are already higher than most.

For much of the hullabaloo leading up to Friday’s bid announcement I stood outside the fray, secretly wishing the whole thing weren’t really happening. Part of my ambivalence was based, I think, on one of the very reasons we may have lost: arrogance. It kind of irked me that O&O (Obama & Oprah) were so involved in this thing. That, and I had become weary from all the propaganda strewn about our city, which, in my opinion, wasn’t very…how do I say it… good. I kept seeing the word IMAGINE and I kept imagining the traffic, the people, the security, the lines, the detours…Basically, I imagined the 2016 Olympics as an epic clusterfuck.

Then on Friday I woke up with a changed mind! To my own surprise, I actually wanted the games to come to Chicago. Why the about face? As an advertising man, I realized many of our clients would probably want to participate and that meant opportunity: creative and financial. I also thought about all the federal money that would have poured in to Chicago for infrastructure repairs. Ask my low-riding Saab if it would like new roads. Last but not least, my kids would have loved it. Ah yes, there it is: the kid card. But I couldn’t deny it. Children love their Olympic games. Hosting them would have made their hometown seem like a circus…as opposed to a clusterfuck.

And then, in Cub-like fashion, we lost. Not just lost but dinged in the first round. I hadn’t even checked my morning emails before the tweets came pouring over the transom. My favorite: “Tweet rhymes with Defeat!”

In the end, my city lost a new business pitch. Pat Ryan. Mayor Daley. President Obama. I watched them all try and put a good face on it. Because that’s what leaders do when they lose a pitch -especially one they thought for sure they would win. It’s hard to do. I know. I’ve been there.

Note: Olympic handcuffs courtesy of AdScam/The Horror!

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