The Best Ad A Copywriter Never Wrote.

Sep 6, 2013

My first boss showed me this piece of writing perfection.

Like everyone before me who somehow stumbled upon it during the 93 years since it first appeared, I was stunned to learn it was written, not by the legendary copywriter Bruce Barton, but by a long forgotten employee named F.R. Feland,  BBDO’s Treasurer.

Come again?

F.R. Feland (Robey), according to my digging around the internet, was very much like his hero, Brown. He was a voracious

Technically ‘Brown’s Job’ is a house ad–an ad for, and by, an ad agency–in this case, BBDO. Yet I find it hard to imagine as the result of an assignment; a brief, for an ad agency’s self-promotion.

It’s too personal, too deeply felt. It is a tour de force portrait of that illusive yet familiar company employee we yearn for when we’re the boss and yearn to be when we’re the hired hand. And even though we see only words on a page, and plenty of them, Brown is flesh and blood in 3 dimensions.  Only his job is vague.

Finally, I think the truth about ‘Brown’s Job’ is that it is a snapshot of our best self.

Imagine if it were required reading in every employee handbook in every company in every land.

Somehow, every time I return to ‘Brown’s Job,’ just for a moment I can almost believe in a future with more Browns–and fewer Enrons.


Posted in Ads and Campaigns | 3 Comments

Aging in Adland-Here’s What Ad Age Missed.

Jan 30, 2012

See AD AGE, January 30, 2012

I started to hear the complaints from creative people over 45 (!) about ten years ago. “Why don’t they value experience?”, and “I’ll put my portfolio up against any 20-year-old’s.” And, not surprising, their portfolio has 20-year-old work.

The sad truth is that many of these aging creative people are indeed ‘dusty’ – the recruiter’s shorthand for, well, over-the-hill. Somewhere along the line they sat back and surveyed their shelves crammed with awards for tv commercials and print ads and figured they were bullet-proof. They stepped off the train. They blew off the digital explosion as a shallow fly-by-night obsession of green-horns and geeks and were comforted by the assurance it would all blow over, the universe would right itself again. When it did, they’d be waiting to pick up the pieces with their unassailable wisdom and experience. And in the meantime, they’d complain about the unfairness of it all to anyone who’d listen.

There is real unfairness here, and it’s this: it’s hard to distinguish this ‘dusty’ lot from the aging ad veterans who never lost their hunger to stay current, never lost their passion to investigate the new before dismissing it. It’s hard to separate the gray-haired wheat from the chaff in a world where time is measured in seconds and where making a mistake in hiring comes with enormous consequences. It’s much easier to draw a line around age and get on with it. It’s not fair, but there it is.

Don’t Ask Why The Horse Is Blind, Just Load The Cart.
What I see is that those who succeed, without the benefit of their name on the agency door, are those who accept the reality (a BIG first step), and don’t settle for the few minutes they get in an interview situation to prove their worth. The proving ground has to be outside the interview – outside in the industry.

First of all, jump back on the train. This is an unbelievably exciting time in the advertising business; we are back in the frontier unlike any time since the Creative Revolution of the 60s. Get yourself informed by all that’s available out there – subscribe to Mashable, Smart Brief, Amex’s Open Forum….and follow the paths they open up to you. Take advantage of social media, there’s more content uploaded every minute about what’s happening, what’s new, what’s coming than ever before in history. Then grab opportunities – and they’re out there if you look – to get known for what you have to offer: your personal brand of finely honed strategic thinking layered on what you see in this new world. Join industry associations and get yourself known; not just with glad-handing, but with contributing. If you can’t land a seat on a panel, stand up and ask intelligent questions during the Q&A. Go talk to the ad schools and offer to come in and lend your expertise to their classes – remember, the students you impress today will be the industry players of tomorrow. Get yourself in print, on Facebook, Twitter. Write articles, start a blog. Essentially, get back to using the tools that got you successful to begin with: hunger and resourcefulness.

What the Ad Age article got right was this: there is, finally, a new awareness in our business that youth may not have all the answers. But you can’t leverage that awareness by cursing the darkness.

Nor by hoping that next interview will give your the chance to, as Sally Hogshead states it, fascinate. But fascinate you can…and undoubtedly with more finess than any entry-level kid.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

They Had Stories Then. Three From Bob Levenson, The Original Mad Man.

Sep 22, 2011

The headline that changed my life.

He is the writer behind the original Volkswagen ads of the sixties – from the agency that started advertising’s Creative Revolution, Doyle Dane Bernbach.

He was the rock-star, the master Jedi, the god who walked among us; a generation of dreamers who believed that advertising didn’t have to be dumbed-down or downright tedious.

Bob’s writing for Volkswagon and Avis was lean, smart, funny and inclusive; he invited us to participate in our own persuasion – and he made it fun, too.

I got to meet Bob Levenson when I was working in New York – he was still at DDB, still doing great work, even when he occasionally took on an assignment for P&G (which he would later call Proctor without the gamble).

So here are three of my favorite Bob Levenson stories. Stories from a time that exists only in, well, stories.

My first favorite. The Bob Levenson Schmuck Test.
Bob was having lunch in New York with Allan Kazmer, (whom, Bob announced, was the finest advertising man in Canada – of course he announced it to a waiter at the Four Seasons, but still).
It was at that lunch with Allan that Bob revealed the secret to determining whether or not you had headline gold: you take the headline; you drop the final period, and replace it with a comma and the word ‘schmuck.’
As in “Ever wonder how the man who drives the snowplow gets to the snowplow, schmuck?”
Or for Avis, “We’re Only Number 2, So We Try Harder, schmuck.”
Actually it’s not a half-bad little test, you should give it a try.

Next favorite. Linen Lit.
I still laugh thinking about this one. It was late sixties, early seventies maybe. Bob was having lunch at some fabulous New York restaurant. Across the room, unseen by Bob, sat Ron Holland, another legendary writer and partner at Lois, Holland, Callaway. A drink or two into the lunch a waiter approached Bob’s table and presented him with a linen napkin – on it was scribbled a note:
“Bob. Don’t embarrass me. The big fork is for the meat, the little fork is for the salad. Ron.”

And…Meeting a hero.
Here’s the deal with Bob Levenson. Unlike the easy-going Bon Vivant that might seem to be at the other end of the typewiter, Bob is an entirely different cat. He’s a man of few words, most of them ironic. Effusive is not in his vocabulary.
Alas, it was in mine.
I was beside myself; I was actually meeting this supreme writer of writers. This writer who’s genius headline was tattooed permanently on my brain. “Think it over New York, Chicago, San Francisco.”
A headline I could hear Walter Winchell himself delivering.
The best headline ever written, that’s all.
And when I was finally done effusing about how his headline changed my life, there was only the stony face of Bob Levenson. Then this:
“So…did you read the copy?”

Posted in The Stories... | 4 Comments