Monday, December 31, 2007

cheers from 1956

One thing you won't find on Ebay's "unwanted Christmas present" list is the 1956 Art Director's Awards annual I was lucky enough to receive this year. The 35th Annual cites awards in eight categories, including separate categories for Color Ads and Station Break Art Cards and Record Album Covers. (Hoagy Carmichael's won big that year.) This photo was honored in the Advertising Art category and was shown in the annual as most visuals were, without corresponding copy that mucked it up when it ran. The The photographer was Irving Penn. The art director was a guy named Hershel Bramson. Manuel Grossberg is acknowledged, perplexingly, as "Designer of Complete Unit." Stylist, you think? Anyway, here's to you and the breaking year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

in 1953, this day was a wild one

Marlon Brando and black biker jackets became cultural icons after The Wild One was released 54 years ago today. Columbia Pictures kept quiet the fact that Brando and Lee Marvin, both born in 1924, were almost thirty when they played juvenile delinquents in this film considered so scandalous, it was banned from playing in Britain for 14 years.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

why people hate us

At a party recently, I met a woman who introduced herself as a Collections Manager for an art gallery. What does a Collections Manager do? I asked. She got a faraway look and began to elucidate: she puts her considerable art education to use by explaining the gallery's works to a collector, elaborating on a painting's influences, its origins, on what makes it remarkable, so that often the collector wants to take it home for himself. Like, buy it? I asked. Turns out she works on commission, and it took supreme self control for me not to remark on the similarity of our occupations. I knew that to do so would be an insult to her.

But why? Why is advertising one of the world's most reviled professions, one that in surveys, rates below even car dealers? We provide entertainment--often more entertainment than the content into which our stuff is embedded. We can't lie anymore, thanks to a labyrinth of consumer-protecting rules to which copy must comply. (Now, deceptive ads result in expensive lawsuits by entire cities.) And, in best case scenarios, what we do actually constitutes public education. (See Dove.)

But then, I'm knocked off my high horse by something like this. The Wall Street Journal discloses that Wacoal is introducing a girdle for men. The man-girdle is being advertised first in Japan (as if salarymen aren't already under enough pressure) not as a vanity product, but health-promoting. A statement from a doctor claims the underwear helps reduce body fat. It comes (of course) with a promotional DVD jam-packed with product benefits like how the girdle makes you take longer strides, helping you expend calories.

Between this and a scoop from Tangerine Toad alerting me to a SkyMall magazine ad hawking Gravity Defyer Shoes, I see there's still plenty to begrudge about advertising. No wonder I am reticent to disclose my profession in public, as when traveling abroad I sometimes lie about my country of origin (um, I'm from Canada) so as not to elicit in strangers feelings of undue contempt.

Friday, December 28, 2007

how to get a cab on new year's eve

You've got three days to practice. Hey, don't mention it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

thank you, lorraine melvin

Thanks to the impressive performance of US Air ticket agent Lorraine Melvin, I'm sitting at my dining room table writing to you instead of on a bus wending its slow way to New York. Let me explain. My earlier post proved, alas, prescient. (If only I'd listened to Tangerine Toad.) All began well at the airport this morning--not one of our party of four were marked for "special" security screening, our boarding passes were Zone 1 which meant first choice of luggage compartments, the plane even took off on time. But two hours later, as we descended through cloud banks, approaching La Guardia, turbulence hit, sending us back into clouds. The bad news was: we couldn't land, due to weather. (Really? It was raining, not snowing, and lightly at that.) As the plane arced defiantly away from the runway, the pilot announced we were heading to Philadelphia. To refuel, he said. And here's what surprised me: there was no reaction. No collective groaning, no outraged passengers making their way up the aisle, not a single outcry, in fact. All of us rerouted against our will sat quiet and upright with our seatbelts fastened, our only protest a silent rolling of eyes. I guess Toad is right: "People have just gotten to the point where they expect air travel to be a completely horrible experience, filled with long delays, lost luggage, interminable lines and surly staffers."

When we got to Philadelphia (hello Liberty Bell) instead of gassing us up and getting us off the ground, as we'd been led to believe they would do, US Air deplaned us and sent us to baggage claim to retrieve what we'd checked. They'd be taking us up to New York... via bus. That's when we broke finally and during the bedlam created by a US Air spokeswoman being rushed, I edged over to a ticket counter to see if there were any LGA flights available. "Nope," snapped Window #1. "All flights today are already booked." Undaunted (our business instills a few useful life skills), I slid down to Window #6 and posed the question again. "Our flights are all overbooked," said a young woman, having the kindness to look disappointed on my behalf. "But let me try something..." After a half hour of key-pecking and placing phone calls, Lorraine Melvin (said her nametag) presented us triumphantly with not one free ticket but four on the next flight to LGA despite the fact that it had been oversold. If CEO W. Douglas Parker could figure that what made her care enough to want to satisfy a disgruntled customer, what made her act differently than her colleague, what infused her with more energy and initiative than any US Air employee I'd encountered that day, well, he might rescue his company from desperate straits. Lorraine Melvin! Lorraine Melvin! I'll write a snail mail letter on her behalf, but first I mean to give her name google juice. Lorraine Melvin!

fear of flying

Thanks, Bill Green (aka Make the logo bigger) for a delightful visit to Square America where cat-eye glasses, wicker baby buggies and vintage Christmas cards abound:
If I were one of these dandy, well-wishing Boyds, I'd be flying home today in a private plane instead of vacuum-packed on US Airways (recently declared to be the worst performing big airline in the country) hoarding rations of ¼ can of soda and mini-bag of pretzel nubs. Wish me luck. And the miracle of same-day arrival of luggage.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

happy boxing day

In keeping with the Commonwealth theme, I'm observing Boxing Day by presenting you with what I believe is the best spot for boxer shorts ever made. Those crazy Czechs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

merry christmas and god save the queen

How did speechmakers go live on TV before teleprompter? They hid cue cards behind strategically placed floral arrangements. Jolly holiday to all and cheerio!

Monday, December 24, 2007

have a 1978 christmas

For your holiday pleasure, ancient artifacts like "turntable", "8-track" and "cassette player" brought to life. But hurry! Sale ends today!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

top word hits at parties I've been to this week

cocktails in Soho penthouse
early decision
New York real estate market
Beijing art market
bathroom renovations

holiday party in West Village apartment
trend analysis
writers strike

office party in midtown NY restaurant with 65 ft. ceilings and loud music
security line to get in
agency reel

birthday party in suburban Ohio home
laser surgery
bathroom renovations

Friday, December 21, 2007

top this, home depot

Last month, Lowe's Warehouse jeopardized the good will of its base franchise (did you know there's a trade association for American families?) by attempting to secularize Christmas trees, calling them "Family Trees" in its holiday catalog. Ever since a spokeshead issued an apology back in November, PR must have been scrambling for other ways to restore brand luster. Just in time for last minute Christmas shopping comes a heart-warming story that gives new meaning to the tagline "I found it at Lowe's". (Thanks, DEL, for this breaking news.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

friends in advertising=better xmas cards

The days of supplier graft may be over but at least our in-boxes are filled with good card. DailyBiz and adpulp have been delivering the best of virtual greetings but fun stuff still arrives the old-fashioned way. Like this set of six festive paper placemats in holiday themes so while you're eating your cereal you can study Trash Snowmen or a Holiday Survival Guide which includes handy tips for re-gifting (Always spring for a new card) and excuses for arriving empty-handed (Its arm fell off while I was wrapping it). Still, I do miss those 4-packs of Tiffany goblets, don't you?

credit: James Hitchcock oops, James Hitchcock

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

miracle on 125th street

Tis the season of tourists in New York City: sidewalks are clogged with pods of slow-movers wrapped in brightly colored bubble coats, various parts of their heads obscured by miniature electronic equipment. Used to be they confined themselves largely to midtown, but today on my block on the Upper West Side I was stopped by two corn-fed young women who wanted to know where Manhattan was. (If they'd been downtowners, the question would have been meant as an insult.) As it turns out, they were looking for Harlem which, to my surprise, now advertises itself as a tourist destination. So the Apollo takes traveller's checks?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

at least the stupid things we say at meetings aren't posted on youtube

Most art directors are anal and controlling by nature. Just ask a client. Junior brand managers coming into the business are often bewildered by the fact that although the mothership they work for is paying the bills, they have no say on the look of "their" ads or the size of the logo that appears in them. (Let their division heads throw weight around and, of course, that's another matter.)

Writers can be just as compulsive. I live in fear of mass-produced typos and would probably lose even more sleep at night if I was the only proofreader of ads I send into the world. It's a comfort to know that work with my name on it (so to speak) is read and reread by 5 or 6 people whose initials confirm that it's good to go. Which is to say I am tempermentally unsuited to a profession where there's no time to review work or revise it or correct mistakes before they go out. For this reason, I could never be a political candidate or a stand-up comedian or a live TV announcer like this unfortunate news anchor who may herself be scouting for a different profession.

Monday, December 17, 2007

it's a wonderful life, er, logo

I am home today while you are at work! I have the day off! And tomorrow and tomorrow...the whole week, in fact. Here's the good thing about being a freelancer: when your partner takes vacation, it's almost mandatory that you take off, too. They don't want to pay you for sitting around diddling yourself which is what they think happens when your partner is gone. (Sometimes, they're right.) So this morning instead of busting to get to the office like you did, I slept in! Went Christmas shopping! Kept a doctor's appointment I'd been canceling for weeks! What a wonderful life. Speaking of which, have you seen this above-standard corporate greeting from World Wide Wadio ? I'm not on their list. I found it on AdFreak.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

truth in advertising

When this hilarious clip went viral during the 2000 SAG (Screen Actors Guild) strike against ad agencies, no one knew where it came from. Since then, director Tim Hamilton has made it into a DVD movie. Unfortunately one of the producers I work with mistook it for a corporate training video.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

how not to be a producer

I'm lucky, I guess. Unlike Jane Sample's unfortunate experience, most of the people I work with are team players pretty good at executing whichever piece of the business they're responsible for. (If you're not in advertising you might be startled to hear how many job titles it takes to get out one commercial: not only writer and art director, but planner and creative director and creative director's assistant and management supe and a slew of ae's (account executives) and assistant ae's, traffic coordinator and agency producer and editors and music producer and proofreader (supers) and I'm not counting the services of numerous outside suppliers. (A director, for starters.)

So, I wasn't expecting a young producer I was assigned this week to turn out to be the producer from hell. (OK, not hell. But certainly limbo.) At first, she seemed only mildly distracted, a state I chalked up to multitasking. (Oh, for the days you were assigned to only one client.) She'd sent out a 6 PM email advising of a 9 AM edit session the next day. That wasn't the problem: I was still in the office, so I got the email. The problem was, she had neglected to list the address or phone number of the edit house, a detail I didn't notice until I printed out the email, just before leaving my apartment the next morning. It was annoying to have to take off my coat and search for it on the (slow) home DSL, only to discover that, unbelievably, this big name edit house doesn't have a url. I called 411 (for a hefty $1.49 plus airtime; later, I found out about 1-800-FREE411). Even more annoying was to have to call 411 again because the edit house's first listing (don't you love Verizon) was the number of their (screaming) fax machine.

I wasn't in a great mood when I got to the editor's, but I wasn't pissed off, either--not until the producer sallied in forty five minutes late, having forgotten the storyboards she was supposed to bring. "No prob," she said. "I can get them online." She went out of the room, I thought, in search of a computer, but no, she was only looking for breakfast. Edit houses generally set out meals and/or snacks for their clients and she returned to the room not with the storyboard, but with a bowl brimming with grapenuts and white raisins and bananas she'd taken the time to slice thinly.

"Boards?" I asked. "Hangover," she said. She took the bowl to the computer (there was one in the room!) and what with the alien desktop and browser and missed printer connection (not to mention the simultaneous carb-loading) it took another half hour to get the boards. I didn't chew her out--that wasn't my place; as a freelancer, I don't even show up on the org chart. But when, during a difficult spot in the edit, she began applying eyeliner while staring at the back of her phone , I took over her job, directing the editor, freezing her out of the conversation.

Here's the thing: people in this business might go to great lengths to look like they don't care about the crap they work on. The editor, in fact, wore a blue wig as he worked. But don't let that fool you. It doesn't mean we're not OCD about details. Even when the spot we're working on is shit (which, depressingly these days, happens all too often) there's an unspoken agreement that what we're trying to do is to make the spot as unshitty as possible, to salvage some shred of creative integrity. Otherwise, as Jane muses, we might as well be in a higher-paying profession.

When noon came and the edit house took our orders for lunch (fancy take-out at their expense), the producer-from-limbo ordered two meals instead of one. "Dinner," she grinned. It's like her only previous exposure to the business was watching Truth in Advertising, a spoof that came out during the SAG strike a few years ago. (I'll post it for you.)

Rumor has it the agency is doing massive layoffs in January. I'm mentally aiming a pink slip at her.

Friday, December 14, 2007

that psa for new york coalition for the homeless

Thank you, mugmuffin, for excavating this footage which is arguably the best psa spot ever made. Only the 7 digit phone number gives away that it's vintage. (1992 PSA for New York Coalition for the Homeless. Credits: Peter Cohen, Lesley Sweet; directed by Laura Belsey)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

happy birthday, sinatra

Ol’ Blue Eyes would have been 92 today and, as a present, the USPS is giving him his own stamp. Listening to his “New York, New York” as a child was one of the things that first made me want to move to Manhattan. Of course, there have been a million renditions of that song, but the most moving use of it was a PSA for Coalition of the Homeless which won every award there was in 1993. Peter Cohen, founder of Street Smart Advertising, and Lesley Sweet spent weeks on the streets of Manhattan filming homeless New Yorkers breaking into the song. In the voices of people living on the streets, the lyrics take on poignancy unattained even by the Crooner himself. Then, the screen goes black and the last refrain is a silent super: “It’s up to you New York, New York.” Sorry I can’t find a copy to post. It’s nowhere in cyberspace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

why ad awards aren't tied to sales

Today I am briefed on a new drug that hasn't come out yet. We're to do a two part ad campaign for it. The first part is an "education campaign" that reports a particular condition can only be treated with drugs that produce massive side effects. The campaign suggests how great it would be if someone could come up with a drug that worked without side effects. After this runs for six months or so, the second half of the campaign kicks in, introducing the drug. Presto! it says. We've got the drug you've been waiting for!

The meeting takes place in a windowless room with 15 bleary-eyed (it is Monday morning) people from various departments and as we talk CR ads and tip-ins and HCP RMs and launch flights, I'm thinking how much simpler my life would be if we were working on HeadOn instead. I may be the only person in advertising who hadn't seen this spot until recently when I stumbled upon it over at daily(ad)biz. It's the world's worst commercial or best, I suppose, depending on if you're a creative or financial consultant. (HeadOn sales grew 234% in one year--perhaps because the commercials themselves imbued viewers with urgent need for the product.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

advertising isn't for everyone

I don't mean that a career in the business isn't for everyone. (Although it isn't for everyone--some study showed advertising to be disproportionately peopled with optimists, no surprise for a profession requiring that you always see the upside of things.) I mean that not everyone selling something should advertise. Like, I've had this thing on my foot for about a year and finally decided to see a podiatrist. How to find one? I could ask my doctor for a reference, but he's out of town on a book tour-- as it seems a disconcerting number of doctors are. I could ask my friend with chronic foot problems for the name of her doctor, but if she had a good one would her problems be chronic? Car cards in the subway advertise a podiatrist, but I'd never call him. Why, I wonder. Advertising is my profession. Why do I scorn the use of it to promote certain services? Is it because Dr. Salzanno didn't enlist the help of a professional? His ad is obviously an in-house production: multiple typefaces, competing visuals, phone number in mammoth type size no self-respecting art director would have let him get away with. But even if his ad won a pencil, I wouldn't call him. If a doctor has to advertise, I think he can't be any good. Which must make it hard for young docs to start up a practice. Perhaps this will change--as all else seems to do. It was also thought unseemly for candidates to market themselves like products until Ike's handlers enlisted the services of Rosser Reeves, inventor of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and supremely annoying Anacin commercials.

Meanwhile, I remain optimistic about finding a podiatrist in Manhattan. If you know of a good one, gentle reader, please post.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

advertising emoticons

The client loves the ad.

The client loves the ad but wants to change the headline and visual.

If I laugh at the CD's lame jokes, he'll put me on a better account.

I - O
How much longer is this research meeting?

What did R&D say? I am confused.

[:- |
I can't be productive if I'm not wearing my Ipod.

: - O
The pitch is tomorrow? I thought it was next week.

They're moving our department to the sub-basement? Whatever.

: *)
Last year's Christmas Party was better.

; - )
Don't tell him I think his work sucks, OK?

Awesome. T&E approved all my minibar charges.

: P
The client wants the logo bigger.

x- (
The logo's so big a blind person can read it.

< : o )
You need the comp now? Want that with fries?

-- with a nod to Tom McNichol

suzy snowflake, 1951

Weeks ago, the day after I was hired for this job, I was on a plane to London to finish an animation spot. (Oh, the joy of business class seats that lie flat, room with a view, trendy new restaurants at the client's expense.) "Couldn't you find an animation house in LA?" I asked the producer, though I wasn't complaining. The producer said no. The London house's work is so cutting edge. The reason it's cutting edge, it turns out, is because they hand draw the cells instead of reproducing them digitally which is how it was done in the heyday of Disney. I wonder if stop-motion photography is also making a comeback, the technique used to make the first music video I ever saw.

Friday, December 7, 2007

green is the new blackout

The boss was out all afternoon at the pitch that I've been working on for the past week (as a freelancer, I'm rarely part of a pitch; a prospective client might take a shine to me and understandably expect that I'd work on his business.) So I was able to exit the building during daylight for the first time in days. Because the sun sets here at 4:30 (is New York the new Finland?) I got the chance see the Barney's windows in all their luminous splendor. Simon Doonan, the store's creative director (would that every retailer had one) named the display: Give Good Green. In one window, elves carry signs declaring "Green is the New Black" and "The 12 Green Days of Christmas" in which "my true green love gave to me 12 tons of tofu, 11 solar panels...9 organic carob bars...6 compost toilets..." (if these elves are down from the north it must be the upper west side.) Another window is tricked out with Rudolph the Recycling Reindeer made of--what else?--recycled cans bought from the homeless. But what would Gore say? It's not just the concept for the windows that's dazzling--it's the hundreds, maybe thousands of shining green bulbs that pulse 24 carbon-emitting hours a day.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

cutting the cord

I forgot my cell phone today and it's not driving me crazy. All those years spent in the office while my kids were at home or school or god knows where, my cell was essential to my peace of mind. On days I forgot it, I hightailed home to retrieve it, or if I couldn't, serial-dialed myself every fifteen minutes to make sure there was no message from school or the sitter or a kid in need. Before there were cell phones (remember?), I carried a beeper. I’d worked out a system with the sitter: if it was an emergency, she’d punch in 6666, if it was something not urgent, 7777. (After the butterfingered sitter, our subsequent nannies proved blissfully reliable--further trips to ER occurred only while my husband or I was on duty.)

Now, my kids are at colleges hundreds of miles away. Of course, I think of them often and worry about their wellbeing, but for the first time in 21 years, I am not on call. If something should happen, they must rely on more proximate systems of support which I trust (hope) are in place for them.

This realization is, of course, freeing. But, as I pat the pocket where my cellphone should be, I touch on the existence of a greater loss. Which may explain the sudden lure of community, as pointed out by a reader who kindly commented on my last post.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

baby, it’s cold outside

Perhaps because weather is below freezing today, I am musing on the benefits of being inside. There’s a book on my desk that I know isn’t for me, it was delivered to the woman on maternity leave, enumerating the benefits available to her: a chinese menu of insurance options: medical, dental, vision, disability, travel accidents, flexible spending accounts to reduce her taxes, dependent care accounts, commuter savings programs. An optional rider gives her and her domestic partner access to unlimited legal advice. There’s even—I can’t believe this—pet insurance. For a few extra dollars a month, her dog, cat, bird, rabbit, even her hamster can be covered for “a multitude of medical conditions ranging from minor problems such as ear infections and bee stings, to major conditions such as broken bones, diabetes and cancer.”

I just got email inviting me (her) to sign up for yoga classes in the cafeteria taught by a Jivamukti instructor (whatever that is.) Another email encourages participation in a company-wide wellness program that will promote feelings of “happiness and health when you wake up every morning.” Downstairs, a company nurse dispenses flu shots for free and if your kid gets the flu anyway, there’s an emergency daycare center upstairs. There’s a coat drive in the lobby and posters in rest rooms encouraging employees to sign up for Letters to Santa and buy a toy for a child in need.

What I’m saying is— there’s community here. It’s not just a place where people work, it’s where (for better or worse) they live, a post-millennial version of Our Town, a citizenry with its own culture and language and customs which I—as a freelancer—can never be part of.

Monday, December 3, 2007

dressing for success

How does an ad broad maintain self esteem in conference rooms peopled with the impossibly young and sculpted? This morning, scrambling for something to wear, I pulled down a lovely cashmere ensemble given to me by a friend whose mom passed away leaving a wardrobe too small to fit her. All day, 30-somethings complimented me on the outfit, asking where did I get it? Of course, I didn't let on that I'd shopped the closet of a deceased octogenarian.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

a picture is worth 1000 words and vice versa

Last week, an art director designing an ad, left out half of a headline I'd written for it. When I pointed out his oversight, he said he'd done it on purpose. That many words didn't look good there, he said.

A writer exhibited equal disregard for visuals by throwing away images I'd painstakingly copied at her request, a process requiring resizing jpegs, making pdf's, carefully calibrating printer colors. I didn't know you wanted them back, she said, uncrumpling pictures she picked from the trash.

Word people and picture people-- their distinct sensibilities rarely intersect in the same place, it seems. So it is surprising to me that this marvelous image appears on the cover of the most prestigious magazine in which a poem (words) can be published. "Flower Skull" by Noah Scalin--great visual for the day the city is hit with first snow of the season.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

merry christmas, honey, 1961

A guy at the office showed me a Christmas, oops Holiday gift he's already bought for his wife, a lovely watercolor portrait of her with their kids. He wants to surprise her. He commissioned it months ago from an illustrator and has been paying for it in installments so it won't show up as a big payment on their books, which she keeps. She's a stay-at-home mom whose work he appreciates: she works a lot harder than I do, he says. Though sometimes I despair at inequities in the world, in the business, I'm comforted by this reminder of how far we've progressed since cartoon characters promoted cigarettes to kids on TV (see below) and husbands thought of wives as unpaid personal chefs.

(Tonight, my husband whipped up a great dinner-- thanks, hon.)

when the flintstones smoked

Maybe my gravitating to a career in advertising had to do with early exposure to its impact on popular culture. In 1961, I was learning to read, thanks to the forbearance of Sister Elizabeth Ann who taught me and 92 others in a first grade classroom. Her arguing with, of all things, a dictionary, impressed us. A new Merriam-Webster had just come out and our teacher was in an uproar about it because it legitimized an ad slogan she criticized as grammatically incorrect: Winston Tastes Good Like A Cigarette Should. She wasn’t the only one who insisted the dictionary was wrong. The makers of Winston sponsored The Morning Show, but its host Walter Cronkite took a public stand against the slogan refusing to say the line as written, outsourcing the job to an announcer instead. (The original line had been Winston Tastes Good Like A Cigarette Ought To, which a team at William Esty convinced RJ Reynolds to change.) The makers of Winston also sponsored The Flintstones. Fred and Barney blithely extolled the virtues of smoking to children, stirring no public controversy until Pebbles was born in 1963 and Winston shifted their sponsorship to The Beverly Hillbillies.