Agency Life/Death/Limbo Archive
Green Acres is the place to be.
Eva loved the city. Eddie loved the country. Together they made the best Slicks/Hicks-ville comedy team ever.
However, this week's news about interactive agency O'Grady Meyers being purchased by Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith publishing, just as the MadAve address-based Met Life Clock Tower was being purchased by Studio 54's legendary Ian Schrager is even funnier!
Known for a more heartland-based culture, with Meredith's ad agency purchase, regardless of whether O'Grady Meyers moves its offices to Des Moines or not, this buy-out shows that you can be just as shrewd (or more) chewing on straw than on a big fat cigar!
Similarly, as the last cycle of financial gimmickry as shown us, it was the home security-based imagery behind Met Life-like life insurance, pensions and money management companies that lured greener Americans to get ripped off, while the Wall Street locals walked away with balefuls of Hey$$$$
Oscar Wilde - After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.
Epitomized by its "Green Fairy" imagery, once upon a time Absinthe was consumed on a massive scale. It was a truly hypnotic elixir. For those unfamiliar with Absinthe, it was the most popular beverage in France going as far back to the age of Marie Antoinette. The "Wolfgang Puck" of her day, we remember Ms. Antoinette for her most infamous dinner suggestion of all time, "Let them eat cake".
It seems Marie is still at the table and has cloned herself at the top of the MadAve food chain, only this time at 17 or more of the city's agencies, including BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy & Mather. Ad Age suggests that "industry stars" such as Andrew Robertson, Kevin Roberts and Shelly Lazarus will be subpoenaed.
It should therefore come as no surprise then that some on Madison Avenue this week were quoted with the same sensitivity Ms. Antoinette had, in response to the "news" of the racial bias the government is about to investigate at our most "respected" ad agency clearing houses.
Straight out of the new age rock FooFighters' "The Colour & The Shape" song, the line above calls to mind the presence, importance and ramifications of relationships on Madison Avenue. Relationships between clients, associates, competitors and adversaries.
One of the editors here was commenting recently about how--after an extensive period of time in advertising--they found themselves in a semi-public 21st century version of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. It's within a small cabal and there's little doubt that the vitriol on both sides has been mutually painful. We compared this situation with the famous discord between both West Virginian families and found that it began with a star-crossed love affair.
Recently, we read about The New York Times Public Editor/Ombudsman embattled with finding all the conflicts in the internal war of Reporting On Iraq. Here we find another new definition for ROI. The process of performing their internal audit externally has been a painful one. And because of that the Publisher and Ombudsman deserve much credit. It makes them a stronger media company.
Just what does an Ombudsman do? An Ombudsman is like a drill sergeant looking for the weakest areas of their young recruits. Drill sergeants push every part of each young GI under their command physically, mentally, even spiritually and work to uncover as many problems as possible. And then, once they find the weak points, they push even more! Not to burden them down, but rather to strengthen them.
"Ombuds-people" are not actually drill sergeants. In publishing, one could say that their metrics-speak role would be to provide "out-going ROI." Why out-going? Because they are on the inside of the company asking the question "What have we done for them (the client/consumer) lately?"
This is quite different from the brain-numbing "in-coming" ROI most employees on Mad Avenue agencies deal with everyday. The counter-parts to Ombuds-people go by another name. They are CHCO's or "Chief Head-Count Officers." The similarity is that they also operate inside their agency. The question they ask though is different. They ask "What have you done for me (the agency/employer) lately?"
Marlon Brando played Colonel Kurtz in the film "Apocalypse Now" where we learned that earlier in his career, Kurtz had fire in his belly and knew how he could win the war. That was before he was confronted with Viet Nam's own version of the CHCO's, who even today, try to manage Madison Avenue's front lines from the rear and know very little any more about what it takes to create great advertising.
Once upon a time people worked like hell to get a job on Madison Avenue because it was such an exhilarating place to spend your day, and get paid no less! Then many had almost an identical experience to Kurtz's. They went from having the military/agency "help them hunt" to having the military/agency "hunt them."
They turned Kurtz into strange kind of "Anti-Ombuds-person." Where does that leave us?
By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor
1961: The poster art and concept for the movie "Madison Avenue" may warn you off. "I CAN MAKE ANYBODY" brags the agency man, Dana Andrews (who in real life was making himself more drinks than anyone in the film).
The premise - a smalltime dairy goes national - and the dynamics between the marquee names (Eleanor Parker, Eddie Albert, Jeanne Crain) never really jell. This is more a picture about Dana Andrew's love life than his ad life, and its lumbering pace may make you wish for a Putney Swope to swoop in, just to enliven things.
We appreciate Kurt Brokaw's review of films focusing on the more realistic side of Madison Avenue. They possess an "unvarnished" view of the street. This is quite refreshing considering the ad industry's primary product consists of a lacquer-based gooey substance.
It's highlighted at this time to set the stage for what many in the business will soon be attending; the annual agency holiday end of year party!
Over the next 3 weeks, agency management (who's names are not on the door) will step up to the stage and make short speeches about what a "family" the agency really is. It will include many special inspirational quotes, from the usual suspects, Leo, David, Bill & Rosser and others. However, to keep the speeches short, in the interest of time, they will probably cut the part of the speech which talks about how they made $1.5million+ in 2005. Much will be made though about how employees will receive a $500.00 in their next paycheck, on January 15th, minus taxes. Whoppee!
The MadAve Journal wishes everyone a wonderful holiday period and hope for everyone's sake that the above scenario is far from the truth. We entered this business based on the fact that it provided a stepping stone up the economic ladder if one applied their personal talents of creativity, wit and some p*ss and vinegar. We cherish and admire these qualities today just as we did when we entered this business 24 months ago in 1998 when we first became assistant media planners!
Keeping with that wit, here's some 20 quotes we imagine you will NOT hear in the holiday speeches from the likes of the Fitzgeralds, Chandler, Gregory and Orwell. People we need now more than ever, to help us keep it real:
We grew up founding our dreams on the infinite promise of American advertising. I still believe that one can learn to play the piano by mail and that mud will give you a perfect complexion. - Zelda Fitzgerald
Advertising is a racket, like the movies and the brokerage business. You cannot be honest without admitting that its constructive contribution to humanity is exactly minus zero. - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket. - George Orwell
Advertising is legalized lying. - H. G. Wells
You know why Madison Avenue advertising has never done well in Harlem? We're the only ones who know what it means to be Brand X. - Dick Gregory
It is not unprofessional to give free legal advice, but advertising that the first visit will be free is a bit like a fox telling chickens he will not bite them until they cross the threshold of the hen house. - Warren E. Burger
Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency. - Raymond Chandler
The Death of Advertising? I think that's in the book of Revelation. It's the day when people everywhere become satisfied with their weight, their hair, their skin, their wardrobe, and their aroma. - Jef I. Richards
Advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better. - George Santayana
An advertising agency is 85 percent confusion and 15 percent commission. - Fred Allen
Time spent in the advertising business seems to create a permanent deformity like the Chinese habit of foot-binding. - Dean Acheson
Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it. - Stephen B. Leacock
Advertising treats all products with the reverence and the seriousness due to sacraments. - Thomas Merton
Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless. - Sinclair Lewis
Advertising was fairly simple work, and I really just wanted a job where I could sit and write every day and not get fired for it like I had at other jobs, but it was fun. - John Hughes
What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public. - Vilhjalmur Stefansson
The vice-president of an advertising agency is a bit of executive fungus that forms on a desk that has been exposed to conference. - Fred Allen
In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising. - Pauline Kael
Until the rise of American advertising, it never occurred to anyone anywhere in the world that the teenager was a captive in a hostile world of adults. - Gore Vidal
America Online customers are upset because the company has decided to allow advertising in its chat rooms. I can see why: you got computer sex, you can download pornography, people are making dates with 10 year-olds. Hey, what's this? A Pepsi ad? They're ruining the integrity of the Internet! - Jay Leno
By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor
1969: At the time he wrote and directed "Putney Swope," Robert Downey's father was 32, a well-regarded indy filmmaker. Thus this is a young white director's satiric take on how blacks see themselves both in the corporate world as well as in tv commercials.
Downey is not Melvin van Peebles, who would have brought a much edgier and angrier perspective. Putney is the token black in a major Madison Avenue shop. Overnight he becomes Chairman of the Board, dismantles the white structure, hires a black staff sporting long dashikis and big Afros, and renames the agency Truth & soul.
By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor
1999: Lowell Bergman was a "60 minutes" producer for Mike Wallace, under Don Hewitt at CBS-TV, for many years. Bergman was attracted to an investigative piece in Vanity Fair by veteran journalist Marie Brenner, the first to break the story on a research scientist at Philip Morris, Jeffrey Wigand, who was assigned by the tobacco company to manipulate nicotine levels to further addict smokers.
By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor
1964: A lot of Jack Lemmon's distinguished screen career went into playing unhappy, disillusioned business types - the drunken public relations exec in "Days of Wine and Roses," the fast-track climber in "The Apartment," the desperate real estate salesman in "Glengarry Glen Ross." Here he's a kinder, gentler Jack the ad exec, and like Rock in "Love Come Back" he does an identity switch.
Jack poses as the husband of his next-door neighbor, Romy Schneider, so she can inherit a fortune. Nice work if you can get it, eh? Then his biggest client gets pulled into the same scam, and things, as they say, develop.
This is fluff, to be sure, and Madison Avenue is more peripheral, a shadow backdrop.
By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor
1989: British ad humor has always been, well, different from U.S. ad humor. It's cheekier. It can be darker and even drift into the macabre while keeping a straight face.
Here's Exhibit A, co-produced by George Harrison. The USP is that you get ahead in advertising by growing a second head. Excuse me? No no, it really happens - this nutty ad guy is trying to figure a new angle on a pimple cream. His subconscious, image-filled mind sprouts a boil that appears on his face. The boil grows into a second face and head. The face starts talking, and takes over.
It's more than a little Freudian, sort of like the adman-from-Hell. Richard E. Grant dominates the film, and he's a bad dream come true. Pretty Rachel Ward gamely tries to hold her own, but she's no match of an enlarged, engorged boil that never stops yakking. It's like having Audrey Two, the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors," growing out of your neck.
By Kurt Brokaw
1947: Based on Frederick Wakeman's revealing and generally accurate novel, this mainstream Holly wood drama contains a defining portrait of a lost Madison Avenue veteran--the copy/contact man. It was common during the industry's development - from 1900 through much of the 60s - or account people serving business-to-business and industrial accounts, as well as some package goods marketers, to position, write and present their own work, often slipping layout descriptions or "thumbnails" under the door of the subservient art director.