Friday, July 31, 2009

outsider art

In New York, street performance can provide a lucrative living, if you know where to perform. And when. The Met Museum closes at 5:30 on Thursdays. At which point its steps turn into an impromptu theater packed with a willing audience of tourists, art buffs and pedicab drivers waiting to ferry them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

breakfasts of champion art directors

These sketches were tissue roughs for Post ceral boxes, created back when art directors could draw, though it wasn't called drawing then (illustrators did that) it was "comping", and required unlimited exposure to toxic markers and other items now stocked only in The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies

Guess "Digits" didn't make it out of focus group testing. Cannibals being a limited niche market and all. From the treasure troves of Dan Goodsell who displays more from his impressive collection here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

overpromise of metrics

There's a new app that purports to analyze your headline. Just feed in your line (20 words or less) and the analyzer digests it, swirls it around and spits out numbers that show how well it will resonate with consumers.

If you make ads for a living, or know people who do, you probably agree that this idea is ludicrous. Too much about writing a headline is immeasurable. How it plays off the visual, for starters. "Lemon" wouldn't have worked nearly so well if it had appeared for Sunkist, over a shot of a lemon.

The headline analyzer is, to me, a perfect example of the overpromise of metrics.

Metrics has become a big part of the ad business lately because so much of the business is shifting online. The overall budget for digital is predicted to double in five years while that for  traditional (you guessed it) is predicted to flatten. Part of the reason for this shift is metrics. "You can track it!" can sound awfully persuasive to brand managers wondering (as the saying goes) which half of their ad budget they're throwing away.

Ad Contrarian crankily observes that advertising now consists of two very different disciplines: (1) making ads and (2) making justification for ads. Ironically, the latter may ultimately prove more remunerative. A torrent of analytic apps are now available and many more are in beta, measuring not only rudimentary CTR and conversion rates but dwell time, trending, sentiment, chatter, shareability, influence. Sure, those analytics tell us something. But what they tell us depends largely on what we want to hear. Numbers can be made to say almost anything, as anyone who's been audited by the IRS knows. 

That's not to say that metrics aren't valuable. For one thing, they're often still key in selling clients on the idea of doing digital advertising, just as response rates once convinced them of the worth of doing direct. What analytics turns up can be endlessly fascinating. But, curious, isn't it, how often stats prove irrelevant, failing to influence marketing behavior. Managers can be quick to cite data when it supports their thinking; just as quick, if it doesn't, to explain it away. 

Which, imo, is the way it should be. Advertising is, and always will be, more art than science. Because its success depends on human persuasion, which has required skills of creativity since Eve sold the apple. Data can help point up what you should say, but how you should say it (and where and when) is an art. If advertising were a science, every widget-maker with a headline analyzer would be a global success.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

how to know you're not in Manhattan

You find jumbo paks of lowbrow snacks in a grocery store . You never see shelves stocked like this in my neighborhood. Truffles? Yes. Organic popcorn? Twelve brands. Kumquats? Year round. But just try and find pancake pockets or peppermint stick ice cream or peanut butter with jelly swirled inside the jar. Pigs in a blanket? Try a specialty store. No wonder Manhattan was just found to be the skinniest place in the nation. (Not that all of us are so svelte. I was recently intrigued by a new way to see yourself thinner. In a mere 30 seconds!

One reason there are fewer supersize people is: no supersize groceries. Not that superstores haven't tried to move in. Target got close by setting up shop in a boat. Wal-Mart flexed its muscles here a few years ago but were soundly pummelled by union leaders railing against undercutting and community activists calling it a blight on their neighborhood. Wal-Mart threw up its hands and retreated to a suburb two miles away. Where bargain-starved customers were so glad to receive it, they stampeded the doors and trampled a Wal-Mart worker to death.

Friday, July 24, 2009

friday flashback: 1958 Kodak industrial

No one knows the exact origin of this marvelous 1958 documentary "How Film is Made." According to Dutch photographer Marco Boeringa who helped bring it into this century, it may have been an instructional for new Kodak employees and was probably used as a promotional to the general public as well. (Perhaps Don Draper viewed it in preparation for that Kodak pitch.) Unfortunately, the English soundtrack on the original 16mm was lost when it was dubbed in Dutch, probably in the early 60s. But if this hadn't happened, we'd have missed amusing subtitles such as "An invisible but extremely important characteristic of your film is it's purity and cleanliness." 

found on Twitter via @polaroidgirl and @holgajen

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

how WD-40 got its name

You probably never wondered where the name WD-40 came from, as it's one of those ubiquitous products, found in 80 percent of American homes, invisible until you need it for one of its 2000 uses.

As you might guess, it wasn't named by a copywriter. In 1953, scientists working for the Rocket Chemical Company (shades of George Jetson) were looking for a formula to prevent corrosion in missiles sent into space. They'd tried 39 formulas for water displacement until hitting paydirt on the 40th try. Apparently, having used up all their powers of invention on R&D, they named it using a code from their lab notes.

The stuff worked so well, employees began sneaking it home and soon they were selling 45 cases a day out of their car trunks to hardware and sporting goods stores. In 1969, a marketer took over the company and turned the brand into a household name. John S. Barry convinced the scientist management team to allow for an ad budget and free sampling: he sent 10,000 cans every month to soldiers in Viet Nam, grooming an army of loyal lifetime users. Annual sales increased from $2 million in 1970 to $91 million in 1990. 

Mr. Barry passed away recently, taking the formula for WD-40 to his grave. He insisted that the company never patent the product in order to avoid having to disclose the ingredients publicly. But rumors that it's fish oil are apparently unfounded

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

blast from the past (don't forget your luggage)

My husband brought in the paper this morning and I had a disorienting moment when I saw the front page laid out on the table. All the news fit to print on 7/21/69. First 3 pages were reprinted and inserted into subscriber copies, courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

What most interested me weren't the headlines which have been screaming from newstands for weeks. It was what was set in small type: the price of the paper (ten cents),  the poem on the front page ("Voyage to the Moon" by Archibald MacLeish) (Can you imagine a poem printed on the front page today?) and the description of the moon from Buzz Aldrin, who took that giant step right after Armstrong: "Magnificent desolation." 

I appreciated that interruptive ad content was kept to a minimum, limited mostly to a portrait of former spaceriders by Annie Liebowitz, with a link to a rather engaging website in which the legends are interviewed and conversation is encouraged. Smart marketing, Ogilvy.
And if the creative team over there is looking to extend, the journeys of Hemingway might be a good fit. It's just come out that he found his famous lost notebooks in a stored trunk he'd forgotten about, a trunk that Louis Vuitton custom made for him in the 1920s.

Monday, July 20, 2009

as I recall, the moon wasn't so big

July 20, 1969. For me, it was the summer before high school. Tricky Dick was new to the White House. Ted Kennedy had just driven off a bridge.  John and Yoko had shocked the world (at least my small, suburban part of it) by going to bed publicly and staying there for two weeks. 

That night I was at a CYO dance in the gym of a parochial school, wearing a dress my mother had made, trying to look like I knew how to twist. At some point in the evening, the records stopped spinning and lights went on and we were called into the school kitchenette. One of the chaperones had set up a portable television. It was a 5 inch screen, black and white of course, with an antenna you had to keep moving to keep picture. The picture was grainy and the sound  was crackly and the best narration came from transistor radios tuned to the same station. A man, at that moment, was walking on the moon. We lived in a new world order in which what was impossible for our parents to imagine, happened as a matter of course: presidents were shot, women burned their bras, wars were waged in a jungle with children. Now, this. The grown-ups hunkered close to the miniature screen, squinting their unbelieving eyes while us kids shifted back and forth in our penny loafers, waiting for the music to start up again.

Friday, July 17, 2009

and that's the way it was

Walter Cronkite has passed away, the "most trusted man in America" when I was growing up. His frank looks and reassuring voice steadied my family and the rest of his fellow Americans through nerve-wracking events of last century including a moon landing, presidential assasination and the Vietnam War. He anchored the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981 when evening news was a very big deal. Most towns had evening newspaper delivery then, but because of print deadlines, television kept you most up to date. The first thing weary dads did upon coming home was turn on the news. There were only three channels.  My father said CBS was the best because Cronkite delivered the news without "hooey." Here's a vintage look at Walter Cronkite's career, in case you missed it on the night he retired from anchoring in 1981. 

UPDATE from commenters: California Girl identifies anchor in video as very young Bill Kurtis (tribute VO was Charles Osgood); DDADmin posts link list of Cronkite-philia here 

why we're unbalanced

Jack Welch's words hit a nerve for me, and for you, too, judging by the number and thoughtfulness of the comments. I've been mulling them over ever since hitting "publish." Hope you'll indulge me in an addendum.

Work-life balance is something no one expected to achieve years ago. Mad Men didn't ponder the problem when they put on their fedoras and left for the train. Nor did most housewives waving goodbye to them angst about combining cake-baking with a career. I assume they, like most humans, yearned for greater fulfillment. But they never expected to have it all. No one had suggested that such a thing would be possible.

Enter the 60s. (Which, FYI younger readers, technically didn't hit until 1968.) The Age of Aquarius. Era of first generation Mood-Enhancers. Rock n Roll. The Pill. Suddenly, caveats long in place disappeared. You could engage in sex without getting pregnant. Guzzle soda pop without adding calories. Wear your hair long no matter what sex you were. We came to expect that anything was made possible by a combination of modern technology and old fashioned ingenuity.

Now, fast forward to the era of niche-marketing and customization. When everything from carry-out coffee to the new car you're ordering to heck, even your kid's education, can be customized to suit, retrofitted to your particular needs and individual desires. When we get what we want, we're used to getting it exactly, or at least asking for it. So it's a rude shock to encounter a situation where that just isn't viable, one in which the tough choices Welch talked about need to be made.

"At our company, we do everything we can to be correct," said a partner at a management consulting firm I was seated next to at a dinner party. "We put in 10 years training women just like we do men. Then, just when they hit their peak professionally, around 40, they drop out. They have to. They're pregnant or they have small children and can't keep up the pace. No one can put in the hours, time, travel it takes in this business and also raise small children."

Like Welch, he was forgetting that while women are the only employees who get pregnant, they're not the only ones who have children. Fathers have to make tough choices, too.

But what about the choices companies have to make?

For over a century, American corporate culture has chosen to reward most handsomely one type of employee: the workaholic with a stay at home spouse. If we are to reap the benefits of contributions by other workers, we must somehow change this model to accommodate them.

Of course, we've come a long way since the days of Don Draper. Family leaves (not just maternity leaves) are in place in most companies. Flex times and home-based offices are often allowed for. A bill signed into law recently in Colorado allows parents who work for big companies time off to attend school conferences.

But if real change is to be effected, shifts in policies and laws must be accompanied by shifts in attitudes on the part of top management. They must reshape orthodox notions of work to include alternative workstyles and schedules. And condone these alternatives by reassuring employees that temporarily taking advantage of them won't permanently relegate them to the B team.

Not long ago, a man felt obliged to confess to me that he went back to work before his paternity leave was up. He admitted that he was anxious to get back to work because staying home with a newborn wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Besides, he pointed out, his absence was hard on his co-workers and he felt a sense of responsibility to return. But what about his co-worker at home?

If we are to solve the work-life dilemma, we can't continue to subordinate the job of childcare. Raising the next generation of employees has to begin to be seen as important work. Study after study documents the connection between parental involvement and a child's success. Let's groom top management to see that connection. Let's stop referring to women and men home taking care of kids as people "who don't work." Let's expect managers, male and female, to recognize that parenting is not a spectator sport.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jack Welch on women's work

Former GE CEO Jack Welch is in the hospital today, reportedly for a minor infection. But I wonder if his sudden internment has anything to do with the backlash coming at him after his speech to an HR conference recently.

Bad news for young women working their way up the ladder.

"There's no such thing as a work-life balance," Welch announced. "We'd love to have more women moving up faster, but they've got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one."

He explained that taking time off for family can offer a nice life, but the chances of rising to the top on that path are...nil.

He tried to cushion the blow.

"That doesn't mean you can't have a nice career," he smiled.

A similarly provocative statement was made a few years ago by former WPP creative chief Neil French who contended that women can't head ad agencies because their roles as caregivers and childbearers prevent them from putting in the long hours.

It's not that I necessarily disagree. A work-life balance IS an impossible feat, an inconvenient fact that came as a rude surprise to lots of boomer women who'd been led to believe otherwise. The "have it all" promise, unfortunately, is a crock. Sometimes, lots of times, you have to choose between your kids and your job, the playdate or the client, the school play or the important pitch.

But the balance is impossible for anyone to achieve, whether or not you've got a vagina.

In Welch and French's generation, men had the choice of outsourcing the job of tending kids and home to a wife conditioned not to make him feel guilty for it. In fact, to feel grateful that she herself "didn't have to work."

But sons raised by those dads have a different outlook. Many want to be around for their kids as they'd wished their dads had been around for them. (Some may want to be around a little too much--see alpha dads.) Childraising, with all its joys and vicissitudes, is no longer a topic verboten in conference rooms as it seemed to be when I got into the business. The other day, I rode an elevator with two guys who spent 34 floors debating the merits of cloth versus disposable. Men are taking parental leaves. Going on school trips. Coming in late after drop-off. These men don't consider work-life balance a problem their wives must grapple with alone if they want to go out and pursue a career. Unfortunately, most of these men don't run companies yet.

The real disservice Welch and French did was to use their stature to reinforce longheld convictions many men in senior management still harbor privately. And by doing so, helping ensure that women remain less likely to make it to the top.

If a male [boss] convinced that [a female worker] s extremely limited in her ability and value...would you expect him to offer the same support and guidance and consideration he gives the men? Might that woman keep herself down on the farm when her leader conveys in countless ways she's not as good as the boys? Might she respond with less than her best effort when the leader expects little of her? Might she want to leave, not to have babies but because the conditions for her to succeed don't exist and the message she can't succeed is too discouraging?
--Nancy Vonk, CCO, Ogilvy, Toronto responding to French

Twenty years ago, Business Week coined "The Mommy Track" to describe the "nice career" Welch says is the only one available to women with kids. If things are to change finally, more men have to speak up about their own need for work-life balance.

Ironically, the recession may help. Apparently, it's hitting men harder than women, creating a greater number of stay-at-home dads. Men who are coming to value the work done by women "who don't work." So that once they return to the 9 to 5, they'll be apt to shoulder more of it, understanding the necessity of doing so if their wives are to compete meaningfully for that promotion.

Monday, July 13, 2009

sorry. security check may take a few minutes

I'm honored that AdBroad was Friday's pick for Blogger's Blog of Note. You'd think Blogger would notify you of this, but they don't. You notice only that your statcounter is going ballistic. My normal 3-digit daily readership shot up past 5,000 and I was dumbfounded that so many visitors were drawn to the mad men dispute. I thought maybe Mad Men viewers were crazy for 60s content in the off season, until someone congratulated me in the comments.

I'm thrilled, of course, to see graph bars shoot up (a nice contrast to 401.K graphs I've been watching) but the downside of newfound popularity is spam comments. Most are long lists of nonsense in various languages. So, I now have to add an annoyance to the process of commenting. A security check before comments can be published. Which I hope won't discourage you, if you're a human moved to say something. Security check isn't for you. It's for all those bot terrorists. At least you won't have to take off your shoes. 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Need a proofreader? Hire a monkey.

A recent study shows monkeys have the ability to recognize good grammar from bad. Is this a newly acquired trait? If so, I imagine our species to be on oddly inverse paths: one ascending into heady discussions of literature and philosophy as the other descends into random, disorganized thought engendered by monosyllables and acronyms required of communicating in 140 characters. Hv a gd day!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mad Men and their 40 year war

George Lois' memory of Rita Selden writing the VW Lemon ad might not be so reliable after all. (How did I miss this?) Turns out Lois' former writer at DDB and partner at PKL, Julian Koenig, has been raging against him for decades, even going so far as to take out an ad in Adweek, accusing Lois of being "the greatest predator of my work." In fact, NPR just did a podcast about how Koenig is fighting to win back recognition he insists he deserves for lots of ads that Lois either takes credit for or attributes to others.

The piece is convincing, although the journalist discloses that she is his daughter. But contemporaries from the business are speaking up on Koenig's behalf, as well.

An Ad Class blog post about Koenig vs. Lois elicited a commiserating comment from the daughter of Lou Dorfsman who passed away recently.
My father would have HOWLED at your piece on NPR and also would have nodded his head sagely, knowing all too well that what you report is true. GL was a speaker at the memorial, of course, and one of my biggest fears was that the speech would turn into the George Lois Show.

Yes, the pair look chummy in this photo that Steve Hall Rick Kallaher took last year at an event honoring legends of advertising past hosted by the One Club. But their show of camaraderie was perhaps just for display in front of the biggest crowd of Mad Ave names gathered since David Ogilvy's funeral.

All that's certain: one of them is lying. Or having a senior moment. Is it the guy who convinced Muhammad Ali to pose as a pin-cushion? Or the guy who claims to have invented thumb-wrestling? A question even more salient: what role did Rita Selden play in growing the Lemon? Google won't tell. In fact, according to them, she barely existed. One thing Mad Men seem to have had over Ad Broads is affinity for PR.

UPDATE: Commenter Dominik points to Dave Trott's Blog which provides interesting insight into the longstanding squabble, and a marvelous Zen story.

FURTHER UPDATE (via email from Dominik Imseng, Matter & Gretener Werbeagentur AG, Zurich):

On February 17th, 2010 I had the chance to talk to Julian Koenig. I quote him:

The accurate story of the “Lemon” ad goes like this: Rita Selden came into Helmut Krone’s office and saw a rough of an ad hanging on the wall. It showed a Beetle with the headline “This Volkswagen missed the boat,” the copy explaining that the 3,389 inspectors in Wolfsburg were saying “no” to one Volkswagen out of fifty after final inspection.

“Why don’t you write ‘Lemon’,” Rita said. Helmut liked the line and said: “Go talk to Julian.” Rita went straight to my office and told me about “Lemon.” I said “terrific!” and “This Volkswagen missed the boat” became the first sentence in the body copy.

I added his comment on

Thursday, July 2, 2009

ad broad who invented the lemon

George Lois recounts the birth of DDB's Volkswagen ad "Lemon", attributing copy not to Julian Koenig who was Helmut Krone's partner (and named in awards) but to a woman in her 50s who worked for Koenig: Rita Selden. The report differs somewhat from what I had heard. But Lois was there. I go with his story. (From the film troves of Imseng)

UPDATE: The true story of Rita Selden is being written by her niece, Harriet Reisen, a biographer who recalls many colorful details about her glam aunt. One of them: Selden once arrived to their Jersey Shore summer house in a yellow cab hailed on Madison Avenue. Promises to be a great read for ad broads of any era.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

billboards that work without CTR

The disturbing billboard shown on the front page of today's New York Times reminds me of the power of an analog medium that (because of slashed budgets?) seems to be enjoying a creative revival of sorts. We all know what outdoor did for Ashton Kutcher. And there was good showing this year in Outdoor Category at Cannes.  (Though my own Grand Prix would have gone to BBDO's ingenious cross-platform idea.)

Here's a few more examples of creative use of the medium, in case you're looking for concepts to steal today. (Thanks, GardenBroad.) Sorry, no attributions. Please comment if you've got credit info.