Last year the Super Bowl! This year the scrap heap.

I grew up with Radio Shack. Like 7-11, they were everywhere. And like 7-11, they offered quick stop shopping, in their case for consumer electronics and myriad electrical supplies. I may have bought a Sony Walkman there. I don’t remember. What I mostly purchased at Radio Shack were blank cassettes, CD’s and floppy discs. And well, we all know what happened to those. For all intents and purposes they are extinct or, at best, just hanging on.

My Tweet: Let’s face it anything with the words “radio” and “shack” in its title had it coming…

For the last 10 or 15 years (maybe longer) Radio Shack clung to existence. As Best Buy and Circuit City floundered and died somehow the Shack persisted in subsisting. That in and of itself was a miracle.

I kind of rooted for them. Nostalgically, Radio Shack comprised a tiny bit of bandwidth in my aging, shrinking brain, representing Saturday morning excursions for a pack of batteries or ear buds. But then those things were available at Walgreens and, frankly, anywhere else that had a cash register. To say nothing of Amazon.

Even when Radio Shack was big it had painted itself into a corner. Quick electronics on the cheap always struck me as a shaky platform. When by comparison, Best Buy is considered “high end” you know you’re in trouble.

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“We get twice the crowd on Saturday!”

For a good chunk of its 94 years it didn’t matter. People defaulted to Radio Shack for camera batteries and the like long after they had to. Such was its appeal. But eventually my grandfather died. Mom got a Costco card. Radio Shack dimmed like an old TV tube never to be replaced.

Radio Shack did not go down without a fight. Various ad campaigns entered the ring but, alas, were completely clobbered. Even if some of it was vaguely clever and/or self-aware, marketing could not save them. The Super Bowl could not save them! Calling one’s self “The Shack” and trying to be a neighborhood pal isn’t sustainable in consumer electronics. Now when you’re opponents are Amazon and Wal-Mart.

The stark reality is no one under retirement age will miss Radio Shack. But they are at least worth saying good by to.

The details of RS’s demise on, of all things, Gawker.

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For the refuge it provides…

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m compelled to speak about gratitude. After all, gratitude is the very definition of giving thanks. Many of us (myself included) often experience a lapse in gratitude. We get caught up in the business of work and the mostly silly dramas that govern our lives.

I once heard a parable that I’d like to paraphrase here:

Every day a group of men set out to forage in the savannah by their village. They ventured far in order to get to the forest and its abundance of resources. At the half way point of their journey existed a lone, large tree in which they took a break to rest and eat lunch. “A shame this tree,” one man said. “It has no fruit for eating.” The others agreed. “And its wood isn’t suitable for building either…”

And so on they complained. What the men failed to realize the great benefit the tree provided. In fact, the old tree was a refuge. Seemingly barren, it provided shelter from the noonday sun without which their journey would have been infinitely more treacherous. This critical benefit was lost on the men. As was the unity this resiting place fostered.

I recall a company meeting at my previous agency. We’d had a tough year. Morale was low. The employees were skeptical about their agency’s future. Many used the setting as a forum to voice their complaints: Management was inept, they cried. Our clients are bound to mediocrity. Woe is us!

During my turn to speak I told the story about the old tree. Though our agency was, in fact, beleaguered I wanted us to appreciate all that we had: jobs, community and a place to voice our grievances freely and without fear of reparations.

In some respects I was talking to myself. I shared many of my fellow’s misgivings but I wanted healing words. Not apathetic ones. We’d had plenty of those already. Change was needed. And change would come. But on that day I needed gratitude. I worked for one of the greatest advertising agencies in the world. It had been hobbled but it was still there. Despite our weakened position, so were we.

That first winter for the pilgrims was a brutal one. Many did not make it. Yet, a precious few did. With help from the Indians, they not only survived the second winter; they thrived. Despite their many hardships the frail community held a great feast. The rest is history.

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What are you scared of?

In Eula Biss’s new book, On Immunity: An Innoculation she writes about fears, rational and otherwise, associated with vaccinating ourselves against terrible diseases. It’s a good read, a lot more interesting and scary than you might think. However, it was a tangential paragraph about fear in general that I bookmarked for later consideration:

“We do not tend to be afraid of the things that are most likely going to harm us. We drive around in cars, a lot. We drink alcohol, we ride bicycles, we sit too much. And we harbor anxieties about things that, statistically speaking, pose us little danger. We fear sharks, while mosquitos are, in terms of sheer numbers of lives lost, probably the most dangerous creatures on earth.”

Biss provides more context as well as fascinating quotes around the topic but you get the idea. We are scared of remarkable things but are indifferent to mundane items that are, frankly, far more dangerous to us. For example, every spring entire football stadiums are emptied out because of lightning spotted in the area. The rarity of being struck by lightning is more or less a cliché yet we fear it excessively. Of course, we don’t question authorities for taking such precautions. But I am struck by certain ironies, perhaps not so obvious. Consider that in those same football stadiums countless cups of beer and nachos are zealously sold and consumed even though alcoholism and obesity will, in fact, kill thousands of people in this country ever year; and a lot of them probably at those very ballgames that were postponed do to weather.

I know very well the tendency to do things that are bad for me despite knowing full well they are bad for me. When I drank, the fear of poisoning myself to death was not present; not like the fear of being struck down by a lightning bolt. To different extents, all humans are like this.

I can’t help but wonder what role popular culture and, in particular, advertising plays in this potentially dangerous mega-quirk of our thinking. Advertisers pummel us with enticing messages about alcohol, cars, soft drinks and fast food.

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Fear of flying but not bacon…

Sexy women slobber over bacon double cheeseburgers inviting us to join the “mile high club” referring to piles of bacon. Bud Light proudly states it’s the beer for those who are “up for whatever.” Ad nausea, literally and figuratively.

The theme for this blog is, “we make you want what you don’t need.” I came up with that more as a provocation regarding the sins of envy and gluttony. Is it possible many persuasive communications are even more insidious? Over time do many of them actually cause us to allay otherwise rational fears for our emotional desires?

Of course they do. Caveat Emptor!

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“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.

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Integrated shop. Unified model. Gyro refers to it as “Uno.” Call your agency (its culture, its model) what you will. And on some days those terms can be pretty brutal. As some of you know I’ve likened working in an agency to being on a submarine: We’re at sea. We’re at battle. We’re in this thing together. Because, after doing good work, that’s what it’s all about: working together. That’s what the word “integration” originally meant before all these holding companies got a hold of it.

But today the glass is half full. If I think about it it’s more than half full. Our cup runneth over. Therefore, in this good mood, I’d like to give you my spin on integration, paraphrasing a parable I heard some time ago. I’m sure you’ll agree, it applies now more than ever…

On the outskirts of a small village, the farmers, loggers and hunters would gather under a lone, ancient and leafless tree, everyday at noon, when the sun was most high and the heat was too unbearable for working.

The farmers threw down their bags of apples, giving a snort to the fruitless limbs towering over their heads. “Without any fruit, what good is this tree, anyway?” The loggers shook their heads in agreement. “The old wood from this tree isn’t fit to burn.” The hunters among them also agreed. “Without fruit or places to nest, there are no birds to kill.” They were all unanimous: the tree was worthless. And so it went, for days upon years, hundreds of hunters and farmers and loggers, bitching about this lifeless, barren tree.

It never dawned on them that without this great tree they would have had no place to rest their feet or shade their heads. And without this great tree they would never have formed a community, and been able to share their experience, strength and hope…or find out where the fruits were…and the firewood for winter…to learn the tricks of their various trades…

And so here we are, art directors, writers, planners and suits. Working more and more together, more and more everyday. Sharing our experience, strength and hope. And while I’m sure we’re too busy to sit around and complain, do any of us realize how rare community like this is? And how blessed we all are to have it? I know I’m blessed.

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