Adweek: Under New Management.

They still post an occasional story about ads, under the category of “Agency.” They still have that little rascal, Ad Freak, God bless him.

But mostly Adweek is no longer about advertising. According to the new man in charge, Michael Wolff, it’s all about media. In his words, the media industry is “undergoing one of the greatest examples of modern industrial transformation… This is the opportunity we have (with Adweek) to not only be great for the media business, (but also) put ourselves in the sweet spot of what we’re covering.”

And so the edgy alternative to Advertising Age has now become an online magazine primarily serving the media. That means stories about “up-fronts” and “cable contracts;” companies like Viacom and Comcast; people like Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch.

It also means I will no longer be reading it. And I suspect most of you won’t be either. The fact of the matter is I just don’t care about that stuff. And neither do you.

Wolff’s no idiot, however. He’s not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. He’s just putting Advertising in its place, which is somewhere in the corner, ironically where media used to be. Wolff’s as aware of the all the “death of advertising” talk as we are. And he’s acting on it. Of course I hope he’s wrong. It’s certainly possible. After all the name of the show is Mad Men not Media Men. Yet, we already know his rebuttal: Mad Men is about then. This is about now.

It’s not like Adweek never covered the media. Back when the magazine was made of paper they ran a story or two about new TV shows and rating points. But we never read them. We looked for news about agencies and ad campaigns. We wondered what Barbara Lippert had in store. My favorite items were those dealing with agency pitches, often detailed like a sporting page, with favorites and dark horses. I loved that. Many of us rifled through the pages looking (hopefully and fearfully) for coverage about our agency and our work. If something we did was written about that meant something for the scrapbooks, something to send to Mom. It also meant our stars were rising or, God forbid, falling. Either way, Adweek was a must-read, one of the first things we did upon entering our offices on Monday morning.

But like the ‘agency memo’ or TV reels and BETA, it’s now history. For advertising news, we scroll through our favorite blogs, check Tweetdeck or Facebook. Maybe some of us don’t even bother at all.

There is still the venerable Advertising Age. One assumes Wolff’s vision of Adweek brings tears of joy to the editors of AdAge. But also apprehension. Any good editor will tell you a competitive publication is good for both parties. But then that’s J-school talk and last I checked newspapers were getting thinner and thinner, with even online versions struggling in the face of social media. Most schools don’t even call it Journalism anymore, favoring terms like “Integrated Media Training.” A fitting way to end this story, eh?

Damned if you do; Damned if you don’t…

Of the many people I follow on Twitter and befriend on Facebook a noticeable percentage are members of the advertising trade press and various PR companies. All of them were atwitter over the “Mad Men” premier last Sunday, because so much of the story had to do with moody Don Draper’s bungled interview with Advertising Age.

“Who is Don Draper?” the reporter asks him, opening the show. “What kind of question is that?” responds Draper. And it’s downhill after that. When the story comes out, it is, by all accounts, an ambiguous portrait of a dark and mysterious man. “A missed opportunity,” grumbles “Sterling Cooper’s” aged founder. And indeed it was. For there would be no ballyhoo for the new agency and its fledgling staff, when they needed it most. Frustrated, Don kicks a garbage can across the room. It is a rare demonstration of emotion from the show’s enigmatic anti-hero.

I feel your pain, Don. In all the times I’ve been interviewed by the trade press the story has never come out right. Reading them has always –and I mean always- been like discovering photographs of myself that I despise. Those you can tear up, showing no one. Unfortunately, this is not the case with articles written about you or your agency. For a week, a month or even longer, the artifact haunts me, especially if it has drawn the ire of my colleagues or, worse yet, a client. Both have happened. A lot.

Thing is, save for writing the piece myself, I don’t think there is anything anyone or I could have done to change the outcome. It is damn near destined that these bits of vainglory will bite you in the ass as much as pat you on the back. And it is as much the interviewee’s fault as it is the interviewer. For the reporter wants an angle and you want publicity. Motives are at odds. It is like trying to stick two magnets together; they are repelled. Often, the best one can hope for is a canceling out. We take the good with the bad. Thus the old saw, “any ink is good ink.”

Despite a seemingly predetermined bad outcome, we try and try again; the allure of a fresh story is just too tempting. Our PR folks provide us with talking points in order that we stay on message. This, in turn, frustrates the reporter, who may or may not take them at face value, which, in his view, is limited at best. On the other hand, if the interviewee deviates from said talking points, who the hell knows what will happen? “I was taken out of context,” is not a cliché without reason.

I’m surprised we are surprised when the tainted document appears. And when I say “we” I mean everyone: colleagues, clients, us, me.

Alas, we never learn. Just as the male Black Widow spider mates only to be eaten alive by the namesake female, so to do we engage with the press. Like the spider, we are compelled to meet our maker, for publicity is our agency’s lifeblood. The reporter is equally compelled to get his piece. One reputation up against another.

In the show’s closing scene, we watch with relish Don Draper go at it again, with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. This time Don plays the creative star of his agency. He is their dream weaver. He is the centerpiece. Like a devil, Don spins gold for the journalist. But the Black Widow merely bides time, knowing wherein the real web lies.

Most of us agree that nowadays social media has made scripting messages all but impossible. Judging from the grimly accurate storyline on Mad Men, maybe it never was.

* * *

Rance Crain wrote about the same scenes from “Mad Men” in AdAge. Good perspective on the trade press during that era: Rance Crain, in AdAge

Proving my point, a story came out today in the marketing blog of the Chicago Sun Times. It was ostensibly about my new novel slash social media project, Sweet by Design. But of course it was about so much more:http: Marketing & Media Mix, Chicago Sun Times

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Sweet by Design (novel, synopsis and contest)

The Rogues Gallery.

apple-redlinestop-102709 images-1
From grimy to shiny!

In exchange for advertising and naming rights, The City of Chicago has agreed to let Apple renovate a dilapidated train station at North and Clybourn. The rehab will cost Apple approximately $4 million, according to Thomas Corfman of, who broke the story. The plan coincides with Apple’s new store slated to open in the area.

Folks, I love this idea. Unlike selling out a beloved institution like Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower), the financially strapped city of Chicago can save or make money via its numerous, often decrepit train stations.

As I understand it, the station stays essentially the same, only now it will be cleaned and fixed as well as tricked out by some of the coolest ads on the planet.

Like a lot of cities and towns, Chicago is in financial trouble. Mayor Daley has announced he will be dipping into our cash reserves to mitigate the huge and growing deficit. We already pay higher state taxes than almost anyone else in the country. Under these trying circumstances, I say, go for it! Sell all the stations you can.

Station domination by Apple (or anyone) won’t end Chicago’s financial crisis but it’s that rare solution without a conspicuous downside –or one that I can see, anyway. And, as I stated earlier, commercializing an “L” stop won’t offend the romantic sensibilities of our citizenry. On the contrary, it might make visiting these places less gruesome and maybe even fun.

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The Happy Soul Industry on Amazon

Three scam ads, conspicuously void of copy.

In the still-breaking wake of the Brazilian scam-ad fiasco I detect a story that is bound to amuse half the population of the creative department and enrage the other.

When it comes to making scam ads I think art directors are guiltier than copywriters. Easy for a copywriter to say, I know. But let’s look at the evidence, which while circumstantial, is still pretty damning. We need only go as far as the nefarious 9/11 ad.

Evil scam in more ways than one

The art direction is stunning while the concept and copy are not. These truths are self-evident: the photograph, the retouching. Even the work’s many, many detractors agree: the ad looks great.

But it’s the ad’s contempt for copy, branding and readability that make it so incriminating to the art department. You can’t read the copy and when you do it’s bad. The tiny WWF logo is about the only thing linking the work to its benefactor. In this case a mercy but the general point remains: the copy has been marginalized to the point of being virtually irrelevant.

As a copywriter, creative director, awards show judge… I see this over and over and over again. And while everyone associated with the ad is culpable, in the end the art director owns the crime.

Is this a gross generalization? Of course. But when you look at the vast majority of award-winning scam ads (and I’ve seen hundreds) they are almost all strong visually. Unless the concept is copy driven, a so-called “headline campaign,” the text (usually one sentence) is down or up and away in the ad, often set in unreadable 8 or 10-point type.

Why? You’ve heard the reasons: 1) nobody reads copy 2) copy makes work “adsy” 3) award-show judges deduct points for work that’s “adsy.” You can refute or debate these reasons but you cannot deny they aren’t real. Even if it’s subconscious, art directors feel their creation is violated by copy.

A majority of art directors study fine art, be it painting, design, photography or filmmaking. Then maybe they go to ad school. By the time an AD gets real work, he possesses an artistic sensibility. Deep down the commercialization of his ideas will always frustrate him.

While many copywriters study literature, they are less inclined to carry its ideals with them into our profession. Copywriting is more clearly a vocation than art direction. We are more comfortable calling ourselves salesmen than art directors. That’s my opinion.

What might be less obvious is the hidden power art directors have in the creation of work. Copywriters are often given credit for an ad’s conception but the art directors deliver the baby. They are the last person to touch the work. Like no one else, they control how an ad enters the world. And how it enters awards shows.

Art directors shrink the type. Art directors make the logo smaller. Art directors accept copy like the mandatory it is. They are bred to make ads beautiful. The temptation to “clean and polish” an ad before submitting it to any given award show gets the better of them. Scam ads happen.

Readers- Take above with a grain of salt. This isn’t the Mitchell Report. I was merely looking for a provocative and fresh angle in which to talk about our industry. Besides, I’ve got nothing against art directors. Some of my best friends are art directors.

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images-21“Whoah,oh,oh,oh, sweet can ‘o mine.”

The very last “45” recording I ever bought in my life was “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” by Guns and Roses. The year was 1988. I’d heard the song on the radio numerous times and I had to have it. I have no idea why I didn’t just buy the entire CD… or was it cassette? Appetite For Destruction would become one of the most important rock albums of the 20th century. Like them or not, Guns and Roses obliterated from the stage glam and hair metal groups like Ratt, Poison and, of course, Motley Crue. Unlike these poseurs, singer, Axl Rose and guitarist, Slash brought genuine swagger to rock. In the day’s vernacular: They kicked ass. Totally. Don’t believe me? Don’t want to believe me? Download “Night Train” or “Welcome to the Jungle,” preferably off their live album. Guns were dangerous. Go deeper into their catalog and it gets even harrier. Alas, by the early nineties, the band imploded on it’s own hubris, made worse by drugs and alcohol -in other words: the usual.

An then this, from Adpulp:

“Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses is taking legal action against Dr. Pepper. The singer is upset about the soda maker’s botched giveaway associated with the release of his band’s Chinese Democracy album. According to Ad Age, Rose’s lawyer Alan Gutman ‘pounced on the soft-drink marketer, claiming it failed to deliver on its promise to give out the free sodas, turning what began as a great public-relations stunt into a public-relations mess for Dr Pepper.’”


Before commenting, I should add Chinese Democracy was 17 years I the making. Between egos and lawsuits (and Axl’s growing nuttiness), the thing turned into an obsession more than an album. For its part, Dr. Pepper figured to cash in on the massive hype by offering free sodas if and when the album ever came out. When the album finally did drop, the website Dr. Pepper created quickly became overwhelmed and crashed. And then came the lawsuit.

120108-gnrletterA legal summons to the jungle?

Axl Rose is pissed about his fans not getting a free soda as promised. Puh-lease. He waited nearly 20 years to provide his “fans” with a new song. And since when do hedonistic rock stars care about their fans? Frankly, aren’t “artists” supposed to reject such cheesy promotions anyway? Whatever happened to street cred? But my favorite part is the lawsuit, with all its fancy language and mock sincerity. This from a crisis manager: “Unfortunately, Dr Pepper has now magnified the damage this campaign has caused through its appalling failure to make good on a promise it made to the American public.”

The whole thing is surreal. Guns and Roses aren’t supposed to hire lawyers, unless it’s to keep them out of jail. Dr. Pepper is not supposed to promote heavy metal, unless they’re coming out with a new can.

Look, I recognize our world has become utterly commercial. I get it. People don’t care if artists sell out. We’re all consumers and brands -not human beings. I get that. Hell, my industry is responsible for it! Sometimes I just think it’s funny. And this is one of those times.