“Blogging, eh…”

Seven years ago in October, I began this blog. I’ve since written 882 posts. If I’m reading my stats correctly just over one million people have visited Gods of Advertising, far less of them unique (obviously), and a few thousand have left comments. On average about 700 of you visit each day. For the record my best day had just shy of 2,000 unique visitors, for a piece I wrote on the demise of a Chicago advertising agency. Over the course of seven years the most continuously visited story (actually in two parts) was a piece I wrote on the origin of the “Not Your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign, which I helped create at Leo Burnett. Among those readers were several advertising historians, researching that arguably dubious, definitely silly but now iconic campaign. Gods of Advertising has been “freshly pressed” by WordPress two times. In 2012, it was ranked by Business Insider as one of the top 20 ad blogs in the United States.

These numbers are modest, I know, but for me they rank among my most prized personal accomplishments. I’ve never accepted a dime of revenue from advertisers nor have I published a single post from another author. Gods of Advertising is my baby. Depending on your point of view that is either something to be proud of or the antithesis.

Based on my earliest posts it’s pretty clear I began GOA as a means to get more eyeballs on my novels and other writing projects. I’m a big fisherman and I figured chumming the waters couldn’t hurt. I was wrong. One of the first lessons I learned (the hard way I might add) was that you were not interested in being pitched to. Most of my first visitors did not appreciate anything resembling an ulterior motive. Some of you left comments to that effect. Many more trolled other trade blogs, ripping me to shreds. Personal feelings aside, it was a great lesson. I was taught to value authenticity and transparency, in the blogosphere in particular and in life in general. Clearly, to monetize this blog was to ruin it.

Fortunately, a higher calling took over, the same one that has always driven me: to write. You see I love writing. I always have. My passion for the craft (be it fiction writing, poetry, screenwriting and blogging) is worth more than incremental dollars in my bank account. Writing copy has provided me more than ample compensation -a blessing.

Needless to say, I adore reading as well. I can’t do one without doing the other. And so my appreciation for having readers –any at all- is beyond what I can express in this final sentence.

Thank you.

That’s me in the corner…

Last week Alan Wolk wrote about the unpleasant phenomenon of schadenfreude, where one relishes the pain and suffering of others. He was particularly concerned about it as it occurs in Ad Land. It was a strong piece of writing. So much so, Agency Spy posted it on their popular site.

The ensuing comments were a revelation. One reader, by way of example, took umbrage at something I had written… In my recent posts about the collapse of JWT Chicago I’d taken some heat from an anonymous blogger. Childishly, I chose to fight back using my own ugly language and ideas.

Bad idea times two. First, I should not have used vulgar discourse against one of my readers. After all, I’d invited him on to comment. This is no way to treat a guest. Secondly, I should not have tried to explain or defend myself on Agency Spy.

What was I thinking? In recovery programs the troubled soul is taught, among other things, to promptly admit it when he is wrong and to make amends as soon as possible. Good medicine for someone who acted impulsively…twice. So, that is what I’m doing. I’m sorry for my bad behavior. I became what I despise: a slime ball on the Internet! As amends I vow not to allow vile commentary on my blog ever again or to spew it myself.

I’m no more or less thick-skinned than any other creative person, which is to say not very. I’m still learning the protocol of blogging, if not being a good person, and this was a great lesson.


Permit me to share some thoughts regarding my first year in the blogosphere. Lessons learned. Mistakes made. That sort of thing.

Last post, I stated that Gods of Advertising is a “must write” for me, even if it’s not a must read for you. Totally true. As a writer (trying to become a better writer), nothing challenges and teaches me more about the craft than maintaining this blog.

Having an audience makes blogging even more of a Godsend. At first, I had only ten or twenty readers (Thanks Mom!) but that number has since swelled to several hundred a day. Hardly anything in the grand scheme but everything to me.

Not to get smarmy, but I owe each one of you a debt of gratitude. Pale Writer. Andy Webb. Van Gould. Jason Fox. All y’all! I don’t believe writers write regardless of audience. Maybe a diarist but even then I suspect he or she fantasizes about a reader. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it…writers are like those proverbial trees.

But, with exposure, you make yourself vulnerable to hatchets! Week one, I got my first lashing from “Anonymous.” Then another. And another. I quickly learned that one’s audience is not always friendly, especially when they’re shooting arrows from afar, under cover, on another blog for example.

Among other things, I was chastised for writing about my agency, the work we were doing and the way we were doing it. I was accused of pimping my novels.

Harsh lessons in humility but useful nonetheless. Though my blog is mine, it is not a My Space page. Tooting one’s horn is almost always a bad move. It’s not that people don’t give a damn, necessarily. It’s more complicated than that. People do care. They care enough to tell you when you’re being self-serving and a moron. Most bloggers become inured to cyber attacks. Some call them cowards and haters. Yet, there are lessons for the receiver as well.

When I blog I ask myself if I’m being useful. Is what I’m writing worth being read? Will it enlighten as well as entertain? I realize a lot of GOA readers are students of advertising, young writers and art directors. They are not here to hate. I owe them my best effort.

If a post receives a thoughtful comment or question, I reply. When I err, I am contrite. If I make light of another agency or its work I do so cautiously and with an even hand. If writing about something melodramatic (agency upheaval, layoffs and the like), I know there but for the grace of God go I.

This is privilege for me. I intend to keep writing. Please keep coming back. And may your God(s) come with you!

Mother Mary or the St. Pauli Girl?

I ripped a blurb out from the Chicago Tribune this morning. (Yes, I still read the morning paper. Interfacing with a computer cannot replace coffee and the sports section… yet.) The story was about a slew of billboards going up in London (alas, none to show), produced by a group of well-moneyed atheists who, according to the Trib, “object to the favorable treatment given to religion in British society.” Some 30 buses will carry the slogan:

There’s probably no God.
Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

As many of you know, I’ve got a novel out about God and advertising: The Happy Soul Industry. In it, God finds an advertising agency to market Heaven. The campaign they come up with features this headline:

These days everybody’s skipping prayer.
So, how’s everybody doing?

You can imagine my amusement, then, at the non-believer’s advertisement. Same tone but a very different message! My line suggests the world is fretting and could really benefit from communion with God. The other suggests that there is no God and just get on with it.

Interesting use of the word “probably” as opposed to “definitely.” Does that make them agnostic? Regardless, unequivocally denying God’s existence would only infuriate the many to get a chuckle from the few.

What I don’t like is the “stop worrying” declarative. Constructive worrying is not a bad thing. It leads to positive change. And Lord knows, we have PLENTY to worry about, in the UK as well as here. “Don’t worry, be happy” is not so much atheistic as it is ignorant.

One has to place the now-famous “God Speaks” campaign into this discussion. For many years, a Southern congregation has underwritten countless messages beseeching people to heed God. Especially provocative about this campaign is that it maintains God as the copywriter! I know for a fact He isn’t, but the conceit does provide the work with a unique and powerful voice.

Like a lot of sensible people, my religious views evolved over time. As a boy, I was ignorant of God. He was merely a concept. As a young man I was an atheist. Not only did I believe in the power of “Self” (Ayn Rand being a huge influence), I also bought into the dismissal of religion as opiate for the masses. When you’re 22 you feel immortal -what need have you of God? By the time I got into my thirties, I questioned everything. At 40, I understood the need for a power greater than myself. I could no longer fill the hole in my soul by intellectual or hedonistic means, which had been my previous defaults.

Apparently, a lot of people can live without a higher power, hence the campaign from Britain. Like it or not, the message will get noticed. To what aim, I’ve no idea. I am fascinated (and amused) by God’s infiltration into popular culture. After all, I wrote a book about it! He (or She) is EVERYWHERE. Including, even now, in advertising.

Me before God, or rather an ad about a book about God. (best price on Amazon)

Don’t hate me because I’m rich, newly rich, beautiful or simply just ridiculous.

My last post called out pop star, Peter Wentz for being “that guy.” You know, an individual, who for some silly-ass reason bugs the living crap out of me. And presumably countless others.

But why stop at Hollywood celebrities? Hating on them is mainstream entertainment. What about us: the advertising cognoscenti? Read the trade press. The countless ad blogs. I know there are numerous people in our business who, for whatever reasons, drive us crazy. Christ, I’m no doubt one of them. With my clichéd baldhead. My writing about God and advertising. I’d hate me! What about others? How ’bout the threesome pictured above? Just looking at these guys, right?

Is it the fame? The good looks? Or just the shape of their heads?

Who’s your Bette Noir? Who among our ranks drives you bonkers because of their status, reputation or whatever? This is inane…insane. Even the Gods of Advertising are rolling their eyes. But I’m on summer vacation. Let’s have some fun. We can take it, can’t we?