Saturday, September 27, 2008

life is short people. punctuation matters.

A message went out this morning over the twitter network:
 Sad about Newman. Life is short people.
It is sad that Paul Newman died. But⎯life is short people? (Although being a short person myself, I was kind of flattered.)

Sure, grammar protocol is changing to adapt to new ways of communication--remember when polite email started with the same salutation as a letter on bond stationary? But no matter how truncated our communication becomes, punctuation will always matter. Why? Because those tiny little dots and dashes and curls contain the power to transform the meaning of words. And, though this may surprise some art directors who consider them decorative, punctuation marks are not interchangeable. A comma, for instance cannot do the work of a colon. And vice versa:
A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.
Punctuation can even impact high finances, as Canada’s largest telecommunications company learned. An attorney for Rogers Communications misplaced a comma in a contract with a company that agreed to install Rogers's cables across the Maritimes. Because of that errant squiggle, a Canadian court invalidated what was believed to be an ironclad five-year contract, costing Rogers $2.13 million. (The "Great Comma" ruling was later reversed by a judge who was presumably less of a grammarian.)

OK, I'm a grammar geek, but there are others out there far more zealous than I am. For instance, Jeff Rubin. He's a former newspaperman who was so alarmed that "punctuation is being devalued by a generation of computer wizards" that he went to the trouble of creating National Punctuation Day. You may not have noticed that it celebrated its fifth anniversary on Wednesday. There's a website, of course, and what most interests me on it is that every mention of the holiday is followed by ®. One little mark that contains a whole sentence: Steal my brilliant idea and I'll sue your pants off.

Friday, September 26, 2008

friday flashback: first televised presidential debate Sept. 26, 1960

If you're a Mad Men addict like I am, you know that the Nixon/Kennedy race in 1960 was supposed to be no contest. Nixon was the favorite. Kennedy was considered too young and inexperienced for thinking voters to take seriously. But then, television changed everything. 48 years ago today, 70 million US viewers tuned in to see candidates debate issues on screen for the first time. Polls showed that people who watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy won; those who listened to it on the radio declared Nixon did. Politics was never the same after that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

cover letter train wrecks

True, a good cover letter won't get you a job, but a bad one can kill any chance you have at it. No better way to show a potential boss you don't care than by sending a letter (email or other) containing typos, grammatical errors, inappropriate language and other linguistic lapses of judgement like these found in actual cover letters from the circular file of recruiter Lawrence Shifflett who has preserved all syntax and errors for factual correctness (and maximum hilarity):

"I want to take this time to point out the weakness of my resume."
— One hundred percent honest. One hundred percent not getting the job.

"Brian Tracy relates a story of a friend that is a Sales Manager in Southern California for a large corporation."
— The lamest name-drop of all time.

"I am a dilettante and a factotum whose knowledge of English and its usage, earmark me as an ideal candidate."
— Sorry, our quota for factotums is already filled.

"I am one of 3 survivors out of 15 hired."
— no comment

"But no matter how we communicate to each other, whether by newspaper or Web site, the reliance on the use of words will always remain."
— Clearly, words aren’t your most effective comunication tool.

"Hi my name is ____ i attached my resume please look it over and give me a call thank you"
— You can't be bothered to capitalize or write a complete cover letter, but I'm to presume you'll be busting your chops working for me?
For more don'ts to avoid when writing that cover letter, click here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

singing the twitter anthem

I was at a dinner party this weekend, and found myself trying to explain Twitter and the reasons I like it. I am paid quite a lot for words that make things sound appealing, but I failed to sway compatriots at the table who remained convinced that life was social enough what with email and IMs and LinkedIn and text messages.

"But it is just like text messages," I insisted, suddenly feeling like one of those evangelists you avoid at Times Square. "Only from lots and lots of people at once."

"Lots of people you don't know?" asked a periodontist. And then I gave up.

So I was impressed to discover that a songwriter, Ben Walker not only found words to describe Twitter, he put them to music in a video that, as of this writing, has over 244,500 youtube hits. In case you can't spare three minutes to watch it (because if you're not on twitter, email probably sucks up way too much of your time) here's what he says:
In the old days it was all about achievements
collecting all your trophies in a shrine;
then everybody came across the internet
and suddenly you had to be online.

A home page was all you really needed
to seem like a success but not a geek.
As long as you updated semi-annually,
and checked your email once or twice a week.

But now you're no one if you're not on Twitter
And you aren't there already, you've missed it.
If you haven't been bookmarked, retweeted and blogged
You might as well not have existed.

Now you need to publish every movement
and every single thought to cross your mind
I'm told the Twitterverse if full of rubbish
but most of us are really quite refined.

We validate each other's insecurities
and brag about the gadgets that we've bought.
We laugh out loud at every hint of jolliness
and try to self promote without being caught.

CHORUS: Cause now you're no one if you're not on Twitter…

Thanks to the Girl Riot who told me about this, after spotting (what else) a tweet from Alan Wolk.

Monday, September 22, 2008

emmys validate Mad Men obsessives

My obsession with Mad Men (damn you, Matt Weiner) was validated last night by the fact that the series made Emmy history, being the first basic-cable show to win best drama award.

Weiner also picked up the award for best drama writing. Only disappointments to me were that Jon "Don Draper" Hamm lost out for best actor and that (creepily true to the show's premise of White Guys Rule) none of the stellar actresses (Hello, January! Howdy, Christina!) received even a nod.

What makes the win interesting to insiders is that the show took home the grand prize despite the fact that Hollywood traditionally sees success through the prism of viewership. Mad Men evangelists may be surprised to know that its 2 million strong fan base pales in comparison to the 21 million glued to American Idol's finale in May. But no doubt last night's wins will help convert more fanatics. Sign of a fanatic? Following Mad Men and Women 24/7 on Twitter. Here's their rolodex:

Don Draper
Betty Draper
Peggy Olson
Joan Holloway
Bobbie Barrett

Sunday, September 14, 2008

it's like totally the simplest weather report ever

If you spend most of your day in an office building, you don't need a detailed weather report in the morning; all you need to know is whether or not to bring an umbrella. Which is why Umbrella Today is my new favorite site. Type in any US zip code (sorry, other users) and the site will tell you if it will rain. Give them your cell phone number and they'll keep you updated, texting you on days you need to pack an umbrella. You'll never have to take refuge under a soggy newspaper again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

what they don't tell you about jury duty

Yes, I'm serving jury duty today. And given the date, fulfilling civic obligation feels like an appropriate use of my time. (By coincidence, my husband reported for service 7 years ago today in this building. He was told by the guard there wasn't jury duty that day. "Why not?" he wondered. "You must be the only guy in New York who doesn't know," hooted the guard. To which my husband, a lawyer, undaunted, returned: "Hey, Mac. I just got off the subway. They don't give news updates on the Number Six.")

In fact, jury duty in Manhattan is far less onerous than it used to be. Jurors commit to two days instead of two weeks which used to be required. Plus, free handouts! A dandy guide to restaurants in the area and a 26 page booklet (also available online) that tells you everything you need to know about serving. Except:

1. Check the exact address on your summons. There are multiple courts and if you're cavalier about noting the street number, as I was, thinking that of course you know where the City Court is, you could end up in the wrong building, blocks away from where you're supposed to be.

2. Don't bring a camera. "Photographic equipment" (except for cameraphones) has been banned from court buildings since 2001. I did, in fact, bring a camera today. Which somehow made it through body check and the x-ray machine. Which is why I'm writing to you at lunchtime instead of exploring restaurants in the area, not wanting to risk smuggling my contraband Leica past guards again.

3. Be early. If your call is for 8:45, be there before 9 if you want to get a seat within plugging distance of a power outlet. (Thanks to your tax dollars, NYC courts are now equipped with relatively-reliable wireless.) 300 jurors, 15 power outlets--only 10 of which are in working order.

4. If you don't care about power outlets (say, if you're Amish) don't worry too much about being late. One woman breezed in at 10:30 and, though they gave her a hard time, they still let her sign in, allowing her to fulfill her civic duty and qualify for a full day's pay--$40.

5. Bring plenty of riveting reading material. Especially if you don't get a seat by an outlet. I've been here five hours, most of which has been spent sitting in the same red leatherette chair. Unless you need the downtime to catch up on your sleep. As the man behind me, a snorer, is doing, much to the annoyance of upright citizens around him.

6. Just tried to post this and discovered Another Very Important Fact: free WiFi here won't allow you to post. You can surf blogs and wordpresses but a mask header prevents you from being able to sign in to a site. Proxy browsers don't work either. Guess I'll have to wait to update you on the scintillating goings on here. Like the reading preferences of a woman in the next row who appears to be wearing a hat made of tinfoil. (Sue Grafton.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

why there will always be advertising

From the index mines of Jessica Hagy.

more mad women

Having been called out for omissions in my last post, by readers as authoritative as David Ogilvy, I'm adding a few names to my ad hoc compilation of Ad Broads Who Made History:

Paula Green began her career working as a copywriter for Seventeen magazine. After two years helping boost the young magazine's image and trying to change stereotypical perceptions of young women, she moved to the LC Gumbinner Agency. Then, noticing the work coming out of Doyle Dane Bernbach, she applied there and was hired as a copywriter. She was assigned to Avis and was appalled by their current campaign. It was, in her words, "a three-page logo." At the time, rental cars were shoddily cared for and maligned by customers who had to use them. Her first "We Try Harder" ads "were really creating an operating manual for the company saying you had to give customers a clean car, windshield wipers had to work, cars had to have a full tank of gas." When she extended the campaign to "Avis is only No. 2 in rent a cars. So why go with us?" many in the agency objected, feeling that No. 2 was a put-down. Green sent the research department to airports, etc. with the ads on 3 x5 index cards. Researchers came back to report that 50% of the people thought that No. 2 meant "not as good as." Bernbach asked, "What about the other 50%?", thus saving the campaign which, based on research results, they were able to sell to the client.

Green went on to become group head at DDB and its first woman creative management supervisor. By the end of 1969, having reached the highest position available to her there, she left to start her own agency, Green Dolmatch, partnering with her husband Murray Dolmatch. After eight years, the agency became Paula Green advertising, responsible for campaigns like "Goya Oh Boy-a!" for Goya foods in the 1980s. Her ad philosophy? "Girls smiling seductively from bathtubs appeal to art directors, not women customers."

Mary Fillius, a copywriter at the Weintraub agency wrote the Maidenform campaign that, over at Sterling Cooper, is getting knickers in a twist. The campaign was launched in August 1949 and ran for decades. It was instrumental in transforming unmentionables into undergarments.

One of David Ogilvy's key copywriters was Riva Fine who worked with art director Bill Binzen on Schweppes in the 1950s. They used the company's colorful chief executive in the ads--Edward Whitehead, a former Royal Navy Officer from WW2.

Rita Selden was a copywriter in Phyllis Robinson's group at Doyle Dane Bernbach. One day she was walking past the office of art director Helmut Krone and saw him staring at a photo of a VW. He told her that, somehow, it would make a great ad. Although the car (which wasn't called a Beetle until 1967) looked perfect to the naked eye, it had been rejected by VWs strict inspection team. "Why don't you just say 'Lemon'?" Selden suggested.

Friday, September 5, 2008

who is the real @peggyolson? look it up in the library

The Ad World depicted in AMC's Mad Men (and recently extended, in a brilliant move, to Twitter) depicts a world in which men were the only masters of the universe (clients don't count; sorry Rachel Menken…er, Katz.) That depiction is largely accurate; however, there were a few women who climbed out of the steno pool, who managed, like Peggy, to make their marks as copywriters. The New York Science Library pays a tribute to them in an exhibition through September 26, Real Men and Women of Madison Avenue. The show highlights the achievements of creative ad legends, including women working just across town from Peggy, fighting their way up ladders at Sterling Cooper's competitors.

Reva Korda began her career in the 1940s by writing copy for Bernice Fitz-Gibbon who ran the art department at Gimbels. "Fitz" was a stickler for good copy, having created an empire with enduring lines like "It's smart to be thrifty" for Macy's and "Nobody, but nobody, undersells Gimbels." Seeking to hire only the best, Fitz had placed an ad for "Phi Beta Kappa English majors" which Korda, a Phi Beta from Hunter answered. In 1951, David Ogilvy, noticing Korda's work in The NY Times, stole her away and by 1962 she was a creative director at Ogilvy and promoted to senior vice president. She made her mark on ad history with the "Schweppervescence" campaign for Schweppes Tonic, putting crowns on the heads of Imperial Margarine eaters and her work for Dove and Pepperidge Farms.

Phyllis Robinson began in Grey's promotions department in the 1940s writing fashion for Bill Bernbach, and moved with him to be a staffer at Doyle Dane Bernbach when he opened the doors in June 1949. Bernbach credited Robinson with helping to professionalize advertising and lauded her ability to differentiate between "creative work" and "creative acrobatics." At DDB, Robinson teamed up with another Bernbach acolyte from Grey, Bob Gage, to form what is believed to be the first official copywriter/art director team. (Prior to this, art directors were thought of as mere layout men.) Robinson's work for Ohrbach's, Levy's bread and Polaroid won her a spot in the Copywriters Hall of Fame. One of the cub writers she supervised was Mary "Bunny" Wells.

Mary Wells spent time writing fashion copy at Macy's, then as copy supervisor at McCann, before moving to DDB in 1957 where she rose to associate copy chief and head of new-products development. There, she made her mark with copy for the French tourist office ("The Basque and his beret are never separated") and a Warner's girdle ("Slip into something comfortable and take two inches off your waistline.") In 1963, Marion Harper hired her away to Jack Tinker Partners which she helped transform from a think tank into a functioning creative shop. When Tinker had a heart attack, she expected to succeed him as president, but two male partners threatened to resign rather than work for a woman. A few months later, Wells left with the $6 million Braniff account and in 1966 started her own agency with two other Tinker renegades: Dick Rich and Stewart Greene. They shocked the airline industry and jolted Braniff sales by painting their planes pastel and putting their "stewardesses" in Pucci uniforms. ("End of the Plain Plane.") A year later, Wells married Braniff's president, but soon dropped his $10 million account to take on TWA's $14.6 million business. (Perplexing many in the industry, they remained happily wed.) Wells also did groundbreaking work for Benson & Hedges and Alka Seltzer. By 1969, Mary Wells was reported to be the highest-paid executive in advertising, making $250,000 a year. (And what will Roger Sterling and Bertram Cooper think of that?)

Shirley Polykoff grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. "It was from magazine advertisements that we learned how to be truly American", she said and began her career by writing copy as a teenage secretary at Harper's Bazaar, then for a series of department and variety stores, including Bamberger's and Kresge. In 1955, she became Foote, Cone & Belding's only woman copywriter and was assigned to a tiny Bristol-Myers division known as Clairol. (Like Peggy Olson, she got the account because it was felt that only she would understand the product.) At the time, only 7 percent of American women dared dye their hair, mainly actresses, models and other "fast" women. When her line "Does she…or doesn't she?" was first presented at the agency, her male colleagues tried to kill it, claiming the line was too suggestive. Polykoff added the reassuring tag, ''Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure.'' The headline soon became a national catchphrase and dyed hair went from déclassé to de rigueur. Miss Polykoff went on to become FCB's lone female executive vice president and the 1967 Advertising Woman of the Year.
So, hang in there, Peggy. The future looks promising.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

King of Voiceovers now a voice of the past

Don LaFontaine, the voice of thousands of commercials and nearly five thousand movie trailers died Monday in Los Angeles at age 68.

He made his first scratch track in 1965, when a mix-up in scheduling prevented an announcer from making a session. To his surprise, the client (MGM) bought his take and he became the VO for Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Budweiser, McDonald's, Coke, NBC, CBS and many others. What made his voice so appealing? It was deeply resonant and perfectly modulated to lend authority to whatever he said, even if he was talking about frozen vegetables.

No better illustration of the difference between the voice of a king and that of a commoner than this Geico spot in which LaFontaine made a rare appearance.

A few moments of silence for him today.