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.

Adscam post

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Even Death is bored.

First JWT closes down its 100-year old operation in Chicago, and then the much-beleaguered, much-named Enfatico is swept under the WPP rug. And the drumbeats get louder: Advertising is dead. TV is dead. Newspapers are dead. Long live the…

The what? The continuous reporting of death and destruction in Ad Land was inevitable and necessary but isn’t it part of a bigger story, a story that’s ready for part II…or even part III?

Honestly, the beginning of the End started 20 years ago, give or take, with the phenomenon of holding companies taking over the advertising landscape. A decade later the Internet arrived and, while at first aiding and abetting Ad Land, it quickly took on it’s own agenda, sucking advertising revenue from older media and, more crucially, changing how consumers and content relate to one another.

So here we are. In my last post I wrote with optimism about the future of marketing services. If big agencies are truly unified (not posing or fronting) they will prevail. Specialty shops always have a place. But I’m missing a piece, one that is critical.


Who among us will emerge from the chaos poised to reinvent? As current leadership (myself included) goes about playing the cards we have (some far better than others), where are the game changers?

Does marketing have a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods? Is marketing even the right word? Granted, unlike sports (where the game hardly changes at all) our world has been turned upside down. But still, we are only transitioning. In order for the ad game to be reinvented we need inventers.

Agencies like Crispin Porter & Bogusky and clients like Apple show us the potential for our industry. They think different and it shows. Alex and Steve are visionaries. My opinion, haters of CP&B are mostly ignorant, jealous or both. This agency is the modern version of Doyle Dane Bernbach. I’m sorry if that’s a hard pill to swallow. In his day, Bill took a lot of shit too. Apple needs no explanation or defense. So strong is their karma it altered not only technology and marketing, it changed the world.

So who’s next and what’s next? Instead of everyone criticizing the old models and their fat cat leaders, why aren’t we seeing any new gurus and game changers? Picking on Martin Sorrel and Howard Draft is so last year. Harping on the death of everything is equally laborious. If you want the definitive text on what went wrong and who’s to blame read The Ubiquitous Persuaders by George Parker.

It’s not a war between advertising and digital. Or direct marketing versus general. They are ALL important. And they are all in trouble. Enough said.

I’m declaring that part of the revolution over. Who among us is capable of delivering the new model for another fifty years, or even twenty? And yes, I’m talking to all the sharp shooters hiding within their cubes or trolling the Internet looking for targets. Put down your water pistols and figure this shit out.


From the ashes, new growth.

I had a long conversation with the AdAge reporter who first broke the disheartening story about JWT’s demise. Jeremy Mullman wasn’t prodding about that agency; he’d already done his homework there. He told that sad tale. Instead he was considering the future of marketing services in Chicago. Funny, I told him, I’ve been doing much the same thing.

Clearly JWT’s passing begs many questions but, contrary to majority opinion, not all of them are bleak or discouraging. Frankly, I told Jeremy, there’s a lot to look forward to.

Yes, over the last few years, it was as if a fire had burned through the corridors of Ad Land. Few in Chicago were exempted from its fury. Yet from these ashes might we see new growth, perhaps healthier and better prepared for the 21st century?

I have ample reason to be hopeful.

In 2004, Euro Tathum Partners found itself in the same sorry shape as JWT. The advertising agency had been decimated by client defections and staff eliminations. Morale was low. An unhealthy fear pervaded the air. The local press named Euro a corpse and called for its burial.

Yet, in Euro’s case, the people, places and things were reassembled in such a way as to put it in good stead. It serves no purpose to tell that story here. You readers haven’t an appetite for braggadocio! Suffice it to say, Euro RSCG is viable and strong. For this we are a little proud and a lot grateful.

And we are not alone. Elsewhere, there is new growth or sustained growth. I urged Mullman to look for it, report it, and even herald it. For Chicago agencies, (ours included) need this support. Nourishment comes from many sources, including the trade press.

If big agencies put forth an honest commitment to ALL the marketing services (Digital, Direct, Promotion, Data and yes, even Advertising), they will do better than merely survive. Clients want and need a unified approach and, done properly, they will gladly pay for it.

Specialists have their place as well. As Mullman correctly pointed out, Chicago’s own Starcom leads all comers in media. In a recent column, Alex Bogusky sang the praises of small advertising boutiques, rightly extolling them for their creative prowess.

Paying lip service to one or, worse yet, fronting another causes decay and, as we have now seen, death. In George Parker’s remarkably intellectual book, The Ubiquitous Persuaders he uncovers these frauds and makes a harrowing case for new and improved models…or else. I urge you to read it.

And so, having arrived at a new and improved model, agencies (big or small) must make a genuine commitment to it. Those that do will prosper. These entities are the future of our industry –not just in Chicago but everywhere.

Mullman with AdAge is working on an extensive story about the future of advertising (or whatever were calling it) in Chicago. The piece may run as soon as Monday. In the midst of it all, I sometimes miss the obvious. Likely he won’t. So I look forward to his view. I also look forward to a better tomorrow. Easter is here and with it the story of resurrection. Likewise, spring brings new growth. Pray our great city finds evidence of both. I am confident it will.