June 29, 2009

You reap what you sow--the advertising version

A recent post at the brilliantly written Jake's Take raised the question: How do you treat your one-off clients? And, really, this applies to advertising and everything. Just how do you treat people you'll never see again... or think you'll never see again? How do you treat people a few extra steps down the totem pole?

It reminded me of a client I had eons and eons ago.

I was a junior at what George Parker calls a BDA (or Big Dumb Agency, for the uninitiated). One of our biggest, and most profitable, clients hired a consultant to take on a bulk load of work and interact with us peons at the agency.

And what a bulk load of work he was.

He berated the client service group. He asked routinely if the writers were on drugs. He criticized concepts in the most ungraceful terms imaginable. I remember presenting to him once--two juniors with the jitters but 2 days' worth of practice--only to watch him take apart and put together his Bic pen, over and over, lining up the pieces along the desk. He didn't look at us once.

It was infuriating. He was so mean. I don't know if he was trying to prove something or if it was part and parcel of his personality, but the agency put on a big smile and took it. And it hurt.

Fast forward years later, and I'm the only English writer at a teenie, tiny agency with small clients and smaller budgets. And what do I hear in the kitchen but the consultant's name. We were looking for a department head, and he'd come in the evening before for an interview. To be my BOSS.

So I got up from my desk, went into the kitchen, and explained the Bic story.

Last I heard, he was trying to sell chocolates online, writing long, loving emails to everyone he knew in an attempt at sales.

Advertising is like life, and I think a lot of people tend to forget that bold, brash, backstabing, and bullshitting aren't prerequisites for an advertising job. In fact, in advertising as in life, you get out what you put in. Kindness is free, but it reaps rewards that are truly priceless.

To those who bully their way to the top, remember the advertising adage: Be careful who you step on when you climb up that ladder, cause you may be needing them when you climb back down.

June 19, 2009

Time to Facebook the music

The other half's siblings have flown over the pond to stay with us a few weeks. They're the younger ones--hovering around the 20 mark--and are extremely polite and kind and funny and have been pretty diligent about picking up after themselves and keeping my new house livable, despite 3 of them to the small extra room. All in all, it's a great visit.

Still, I don't, you know, get them.

They get up at noon. They watch TV a lot of the day. They have supper at 3:30. They eat a whole lot of red meat and drink a ton of soft drink. They listen to music that stumps me. The girls giggle about celebrities and gossip I've never heard about, while the boys talk football and use expressions that contain words I understand but meanings that go right over my head.

A lot of the differences are cultural, but a lot more are getting lost down the giant cavern of a generation gap. Just when I think I get how they think, just when I think I can predict what they'd like, they surprise me in ways that make me tsk internally and try hard not to shake my head. Then I realize I'm the oldest in the room. The mother-to-be. To them, I must be (and how it hurts to say it) old.

Yet I work for an agency that's trying to jump on the Facebook bandwagon. An agency whose average employee age is probably somewhere right around my own.

What are we thinking?

Facebook and My Space and BeBo--and all those other social sites that grow and die in miniature lifetimes--engage this younger generation on a level that's almost impenetrable. Yet here we are, desperately making advertising applications, attempting to gather friends and fans for brands. We're like the old trying to be cool. It must be like listening to your father say "dude" or your mother attempt to fizzle her nizzle.

We're painfully embarrassing.

Yet we grease ourselves and our clients into skinny jeans and hang around social sites like our wrinkles and varicose veins don't show.

One of the first things you learn in advertising is to know your audience. To understand their needs and voice those needs in such a way as to attract your audience's attention. So although may know zilch about trends or fashion or new music or social sites, its our job to learn what prompts young people to buy their first car, open a bank account, choose one soft drink over another, pick this cell-phone company over that, buy eco-friendly, recycle.

It's our job to position the benefits in ways that attract our audience. It certainly isn't our job to pretend we're 21 again.

And the more we attempt to bring our brands to a painfully fake positioning, the less credible those brands are going to be.

And then we're really in trouble.

June 16, 2009

Client conscience

A post today on Why Advertising Sucks? (cause, really, it does just that sometimes) blogged about what we would do if confronted with a project from a client we really, truly didn't believe in. Cigarettes. Or Alcohol. Or big polluters. Or anyone who uncomfortably confronted our own views of the world.

Tough choice, that.

But it also got me thinking about waste. And by that I mean the millions upon millions of dollars flushed away every year by clients who are indecisive. Who can't pick something and stick with it. You know who I mean: The one who hums and haws, asks 20 people's opinion, gathers all their conflicting comments, and asks you to please start over. And ca-ching go the agency coffers, yes?


That means client B gets pushed aside. Again.

It means negotiating a big bill at the end of a project (and what insecure client doesn't balk and demand to pay less?).

It means late nights for nothing.

And it means a whole lot more for Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.

I often wonder what people would say if they knew how much utter waste a bad client can trail behind them. I've seen taxpayer money shell out for 25--yes, 25--concepts and cross-country focus groups, only to have the project collect dust on some department shelf. You want to know where the money should come from to save health care? I have a very good idea.

I've also seen clients from private companies play the personal-opinion game. As in "I don't like yellow," or "find me a (royalty-free) picture just like that, but make the guy 5 years younger and facing the other way." They need to put their 2 cents' in everything--perhaps to feel like they're contributing, perhaps to justify their involvement. Would that they added something to the brief, or the creative direction. But no--it's nit pick and stall and change-my-mind for weeks on end. It's a whole bunch of noise about nothing.

And while the hours and the bill add up, the customer at the end of the line is hit with user-fee hikes and interest charges galore.

Money in, money out.

I'm talking just one agency here. I can't imagine what the waste would be if you took the pointless excess from every client in the agency world and added that together. I think world hunger could be eliminated. And I'm not kidding.

I've worked with a lot of really, really good clients. They trust the agency, ask hard questions, make excellent suggestions--guide us all to do better work. But it's these nit-picking nitwits who flaunt their incompetence that make our agency lives a little bit of a living hell.

And they're doing it with the money straight out of our personal pockets.

June 12, 2009

An abundance of agencies

The recent move takes us on a whole new route into town. It's now just a simple bus ride (except for all the dang traffic! What are you people paying for downtown parking every year?) down a single street and a nice walk to get to the front door of the office. The street is busy and beautiful--filled with old buildings and great architecture and life and people and colour.

And every second door seems to house an agency.

I've seen This Branding, That Design and The Other Communications. I've never heard of these places in my life--not in trade magazines, at awards ceremonies or even from other ad people. These little shops look modern and interesting and fun--and that's just from what I see on the outside.

What do they do? Who works there? Are they sinking or swimming in these odd agency times?

Our agency is a mid-sized, privately owned one--the last of a dying breed, and a great place to work. And people in the industry here just barely recognize our name (although we've been doing very well indeed). What work do these tiny agencies pick up, I wonder... Mom & Pop Stores, maybe. Or bits of packaging. Flyers?

I'm intrigued.

Our industry is fickle and to attend an award ceremony is to think a city has only 2 dang agencies to pick from. But look at all these little fish undertow. They're swimming in the shadows, but their names are still nailed tight to the door.

I wish you well, small shops. I'd love to see your name pop up sometime. Here's hoping the big fish move out of the way once in a while to let the minnows strut their stuff, too.

June 11, 2009

Why I never progressed beyond The Beatles

Walking past HMV this morning, I noticed a huge poster for supergroup The Black Eyed Peas. Now, I'm not one for rap or pop or anything with a monotonous beat, but the copywriter in me always flinches at that one. Cause they're not eyed peas who happen to be black. Gramatically, they should be:

The Black-Eyed Peas

Just like it should be:

Three Days' Grace

And not three times a Days Grace--which is really just gibberish.

Maybe I should just stick to Abbey Road.

June 9, 2009

Dead on, Mr. V

Clients and customer service seem to be taking up an unfair share of my brain space lately. So I thought I'd post something I truly, madly love: the best opening page of any novel I've ever read--Deadeye Dick, by the incomparable Kurt Vonnegut.

The first time I opened the book, I reread the dang page about 10 times. It's perfect--it's flows flawlessly. It's intriguing, exciting, un-pompous, simple, and human. It's Vonnegut. I read once that Kurt Vonnegut writes every word--every page--to utter perfection before moving on. Once he'd done a novel, he was good and done. No drafts for him, just perfection or nothing at all. I'm kinda like that with advertising--unwilling to move on till I get something just right. Sometimes it takes me a little long, but I can't take the lazy way out and come back to it later.

Would that I had more in common with Mr. V!

Anyhoo, for your reading pleasure, I give you page 1 of Deadeye Dick:

To the as-yet-unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: Watch out for life.

I have caught life. I have come down with life. I was a wisp of undifferentiated nothingness, and then a little peephole opened quite suddenly. Light and sound poured in. Voices began to describe me and my surroundings. Nothing they said could be appealed. They said I was a boy named Rudolph Waltz, and that was that. They said the year was 1932, and that was that. They said I was in Midland City, Ohio, and that was that.

They never shut up. Year after year they piled detail upon detail. They do it still. You know what they say now? They say the year is 1982, and that I am fifty years old.

Blah blah blah.

June 8, 2009


Moving means phone calls. And a lot of them. I have a list an arm's-length long of all the people I have to call or call back, and for every name I cross out I have two more to add to the list.

The calling is bad enough. What gets me most, though, is the run around.

Take this, for example: We got a new mortgage/life insurance policy. So I call the company to cancel the old one, only to be told that--since I used a broker--HE has to call to cancel. So I call the broker, who's out of the office for 2 days. I leave a message. A week later I call again, and leave the same message. I'm still waiting.

I'm thinking customer support may be dead. Or at least renamed Customer Unsupportive.

Now, I'm not a phone person. I have to psych myself up to get calling. So when I sit down and pick up the dang phone, I'm fully expecting it to be a quick, painless experience. Not so, not so.

Here's how it's gone so far:

* Furniture store calls 4 times in the last 2 months to confirm wrong delivery date. Then delivers broken furniture. I call and speak to 3 departments, one of which offers me a discount if I go all the way to the store. I get a call 2 days telling me about the discount again. A plus: They're sending me a cheque!

* Geek Squad: Outsourced my request for help securing my router. Tech help calls and, after 2 hours on the phone (and on my knees on the floor), succeeds in getting my working (albeit unsecure) router to go totally kaput. Tech suggests I buy a new router cause the old one is defective. I get passed along to Customer Service and ask for my money back, based on the fact that they left me worse off than before. Someone promises to call back the next day. Four days later, the tech leaves a message saying he may have figured it out.

* Need to pay municipal taxes for remainder of the year. Offices are open 9 to 5 (and closed for lunch).

Kudos go out to the prenatal class lady, who promptly returned my call with tons of information and a helpful attitude. Mind, she's a private company trying to keep her business running, so I guess she has a vested interest in keeping her customers satisfied.

What has any of this to do with advertising? We deliver the message. We make the promises to our client's clients. We write the big words that are supposed to make people feel calm, collected and taken care of.

But people, people--it's all a ruse. It's a bit of bait on a hook. Cause once they get you in the door (or on the phone), they figure they've got you.

It's like making an ad for a better mouse trap. Except you're the mouse.

June 5, 2009


Google Analytics tells me that someone found my site by looking up, wait for it...

"peta doesn't know shit about the the nunavut"

This visitor stayed 3 minutes and browsed around, so hello and welcome to you!

Hyphen mayhem

We have a client here who, apparently, has a writer on staff--or at least some kind of wannabe proofreader. This week, we've been having a hyphen saga, complete with Chicago Manual of Style quotes and lots of eye rolling.


Hyphens are my thing. I like hyphens. They are impeccable little blips of perfection that convey the exact meaning. I just had to retype "impeccable" there 3 times to get the spelling right, but I'm a one-shot deal with hyphens.

Unfortunately, client trumps logic.

So, if you'll allow me to vent what I cannot pass along up the food chain:

"Albany area stores" (sans hyphen) means stores in Albany that sell areas.

"8 to 9-year plan" (again, sans hyphen after the 8) means a plan that's either 9 years in the making, or the number 8.

I'm now stepping off the punctuation soapbox and off to get me a Beaver Tail.

June 2, 2009

Stuff that drives me nuts - Part 1

Writing "breathe" when you mean "breath". And vice versa.

Same as writing "advice" when you mean "advise."

One's a noun, the other's a verb. How people consistently get it wrong about 80% of the time is beyond me. You'd think it would at LEAST be 50-50.

June 1, 2009

Alarm bells...

So our new home comes with an alarm system. Two little motion sensors flash scary red lights when I go by, and the touch pad looks well used. It's not connected anymore, but I noticed the front door had a big dent in the side, as if someone tried to pry open the door at some point. So the previous owner was on to something. And I figure I might as well follow suit.

The stickers on all the windows read "ADT", and it seemed the logical place to start. You know, they're home even when you're not, and all that. I can sing the jingle in my sleep; I remember it from when I was a kid, I think. They're probably the only alarm-system company I can name off the top of my head.

So I called the toll-free line, after business hours.

A tired-sounding girl picked up.

And before I could get half-way through my first sentence (which I preceded with "I'm totally new at this"), she interrupted me with a half yawn to tell me she didn't take care of things like that.

I had to call during business hours.

Erm... OK.

I'm pretty sure she could have given me a little insight, or at least let me finish a sentence and offer friendly assurance that a specialist would be able to answer my questions best.

So now, in my advertising mind, "ADT = well-known alarm company" has been replaced by "ADT = inconveniently available only 9 to 5 with bored call-centre agent as back-up plan."

Will I call them again? I guess so--I don't know anyone else. But I think I'm going to start asking around, too. Cause if this is the kind of service they offer when it's NOT an emergency...