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By: Stephen Feinberg

Everyone’s thought about retirement—what may seem like the very distant future—when we’ll no longer come in to work everyday, and instead of the 9-to-5 can spend our days doing…whatever we want.  Prudential’s “Day One” Campaign is about that very first day of retirement and stories of what real people do on the first day of the rest of their lives.

The website features these real stories with photos, quotes, and videos, but also Prudential’s message about preparing for Day One with stats about Americans needing to save for retirement (The ticker on the site is a constant reminder of the ever growing number of retirees.)  What a great way to get people involved—and active on the website—in an interesting, human way that everyone can relate to.

By: Stephen Feinberg

Anyone at Seiden who’s had to drive with Matt and me to client meetings has had to endure the peculiar agony of listening to two old white men dork out on Boomer music, aka Dad Rock.

You’ll be in the back seat (because old white men hog the front), fiddling with your iPhone in an attempt to look productive, wishing to hell you could bust out the headphones or maybe just not come back from the pit stop at the Grover Cleveland Service Area on the Jersey Turnpike.

Instead, you listen to dialogue like this, as the Sirius Loft or Classic Vinyl channel plays on and on:

Matt: What do you think is Steely Dan’s most popular album?

Steve: Popular as in sold the most?

Matt: Yeah.

Steve: Including downloads, or just album sales?

Matt: Total.

Steve: Do you know the answer? Is this a test?

Matt: Just give it your best shot.

Steve: Countdown to Ecstasy.

Matt: No. It was Aja.

Steve: I would have thought Aja was too jazzy.

Matt: Did you know that the drummer on that album, Jeff Porcaro, also played for Sonny and Cher?

And on and on. No wonder hitch-hiking from the Jersey marshes back into the city looks like a viable option. It’s torture. I know, and I’m one of the perpetrators.

But take comfort in the fact that, if you’ve been through this routine, you’re part of a Seiden tradition that goes back years. Talk to Seiden alumna Zenia Zaveri about the endless hours on the Long Island Expressway on the way to Weight Watchers. Or talk to Anu Patel about her music-filled hours down to Chesterbrook for Shire meetings.

Anu, to her credit, gets my vote for most willing to openly show her indifference/contempt to the Matt & Steve music talkathon. Also most able to kick some game about Boomer music minutiae when it suited her.

Not that it matters, but here’s some things about the music Matt and I obsess about. Most of it is in the shared Boomer guy sweet spot: Grateful Dead, Stones, Steely Dan, Mark Knopfler, Emmy Lou Harris, Steve Earle.

But our 5-year age difference means there’s music on both sides of the divide the other guy is not down with. Folk music from the early to mid-60s Matt files under “Beatnik” and views as archival aural history at best. Example: Richard & Mimi Farina. Any band after Springsteen (1973) untill the appearance of Dire Straits and Talking Heads Steve views as inauthentic hair-band crap. Example: Mott the Hoople.

But that leaves a vast pool of common musical memories to exhume, share and discuss. If you’re stuck in the car with us, be forewarned. But if you decide to put on the Dre Beatz and opt out, we won’t hold it against you.

Hell, we’re so old we might not even notice.

By: Stephen Feinberg

The Oscars used to be referred to in media circles as “The Women’s SuperBowl” because of the size of its female audience. Sexist? Maybe. But I’ll tell what’s sexist: the utter lack of interest the ad biz has in the advertising created and aired for this venue. Two million Tweets during the broadcast, not a line about the ads in today. Maybe there’s some truth to that ad agency-as-frathouse critique. Maybe a lot, actually.

By: Stephen Feinberg

isn’t an ad agency. It’s Google. If the daily Google search quizzes and last year’s exquisite Parisian Love TV spot weren’t proof, the “remix” ads unveiled at SXSW and featured in today’s NYT ad column should be.

Yes, the credits include an ad agency (actually, a creative team that split off from McCann), but the idea of showing how classic advertising pitches can be made better with today’s interactive tools, that’s all Google.

To all the older agency people who bemoan the loss of the good old (pre-internet) days–a group which on occasion includes me, it’s good to remember the old saying:

It’s a poor workman who blames his tools.

By: Stephen Feinberg

The binary-coded digital computer as we know it was first envisioned by mathematician Joseph Leibniz in 1718. While lacking the electronic technology to make high-speed switching possible, Leibniz knew the potential of his idea: “My invention contains the application of all reason, a judgment in each controversy, an analysis of all notions, a valuation of probability, a compass for navigating over the ocean of our experiences, an inventory of all things, a table of all thoughts, a microscope with which to prove the phenomena of the present and a telescope with which to preview those of the future, a general possibility to calculate everything.“

By: Stephen Feinberg

A story:

It’s 1955. A carpenter is wrapping up construction of a beautiful new staircase and bannister for a homeowner. The homeowner comes by, admires the carpenter’s handiwork, and then asks him a question: “Hey, Joe, do you know any electricians who know how to install those new TV antenna thingys up on the roof? My wife’s been after me to put one of those things up there and connect it to the new television console we just bought.”

The carpenter says, “Sure. Why don’t I have him drop by tomorrow?”

The next day, the doorbell rings and the homeowner opens the door to find this same carpenter, now outfitted with a ladder, electrical tape and wire cutters rather than saw and drill. “I thought you said you were sending someone who knows about TV antennas,” the homeowner, confused and slightly irritated, said.

The carpenter, who had spent years clambering around roofs, attaching everything from weathervanes to cupolas to (more recently) TV antennas, said to the homeowner: “I did.”

The homeowner looked at the tradesman’s truck parked in his driveway with the words “Joe’s Carpentry” emblazoned on the sides. “Sorry Joe,” the homeowner says. “You’re a great carpenter. But I need an antenna expert here.”

Change the date to 2012, change the new technology to digital advertising and/or social media, change the homeowner into a client, and welcome to the world of full-service advertising agencies.

Clients, desiring to take advantage of a new medium but too unsure of themselves and this unfamiliar new world to judge the actual work or the expertise behind it, are looking out at their metaphorical driveways to see if the word “Digital” (or 2.0, or X or something that sounds like a sixties band, like Virtual Noise) is painted on our metaphorical trucks.

Agencies, who know damn well that an idea is an idea is an idea, and that you craft the idea to be appropriate to the medium it’s in, are trapped. If they point this out to the client, they look defensive. If they don’t, they’re playing in the digital agency’s house. Either way, they lose. And clients lose, too, because any possibility of truly integrated work goes away when the traditional agency and Virtual Noise 2.0 split the account.

This is not to suggest in any way that clients are to blame. Let’s say, to take the homeowner metaphor into the present, you want to go off the grid and convert your home to solar electric power. So you’re the client. Who are you going to use to do the installation–Joe’s Electric who has been your go-to guy for putting in  new outlets and lighting fixtures–or SunStrong, whose motto (printed on all their solar-power trucks) is: “The Next Generation of Power Generation”?


Provenance counts.

Provenance counts in buying art and antiques because the product’s expensive and you’re afraid of being bamboozled. That’s why Gagosian, Christies et. al stay in business.

Provenance counts in buying healthcare because the stakes are so high and the subject matter is so beyond your grasp. So seeing the words New York Presbyterian or Mayo on a surgeon’s lapel pocket are very reassuring.

And provenance has always counted in advertising, where David Ogilvy has won more accounts taking a dirt nap than the rest of us have wide awake and pumped up on Red Bull, fear or other stimulant of choice.

But now it counts more than ever, trumping common sense, experience and trust.

These things have a way of working themselves out over time. No one has wondered for a very long time, as Procter & Gamble must have in the early 50s, whether their ad agencies, grounded in print, radio and outdoor posters, could make ads for TV as well.

And the day will come–trust me on this–when brands will be able to sample their wares via a texted code to unlock the customer’s 3-D printer or makerbot. When that day comes, the words “Digital Branding Strategists” on the business card won’t look so hot anymore.

By: Stephen Feinberg

Bullpen: The old world for “studio.” Probably because it was where aspiring young art directors cut up type galleys (See “Hot type” below) waiting for one of the starters to go on injured reserve.
Hot type: In the old days, children, type was made by pouring hot lead into little molds, popping out the characters and lining them up in racks. Really. I’m not kidding. Then they’d run off a copy and someone in the Bullpen would cut it up and glue it down on a board in a way the art director liked.

Interlock: The final form of a TV commercial before duplicate prints were struck for distribution. Comes from the fact that the picture and sound tracks had to be manually synched and locked together.

LetraSet: Pre-computer design software, type’s appearance on a layout was either “indicated” roughly via felt-tip marker, or, if something more finished-looking was needed, comp’ed with LetraSet: little letters you transferred from a clear plastic sheet onto your layout with a burnishing tool.

Copy contact: Already a dying breed by the time I came into the business, it merged AE and copywriter duties into one harried, disrespected job. Bill Bernbach’s innovation of pairing copywriters  with art directors was the beginning of the end.

Pica: A standard measure for measuring the width of a block of text, used by art directors to torture copywriters. Still an option today in InDesign’s Preferences, but rarely used in this day of WYSIWYG screen fonts and automatic type formatting.

Double truck: What we would now call a spread: an ad whose contents, especially a large image, goes across two adjoining pages in a magazine or newspaper.

17.65: The percent markup agencies used to be able to charge on production charges (including TV production!) alongside a 15% commission on media, before cost consultants in the 1980s ruined everything.
Moviola /Steenbeck Machines: Used by editors to splice together film clips (hanging overhead like celluloid lasagna) and play the resulting sequence on a flickery little 4-inch screen. Sometimes ironically displayed in modern digital editing houses.

3/4 inch: The first industry (vs. at-home) videotape standard format. The first time I got a ¾” cassette tape of a commercial I had done was in 1978. Three-quarter inch had a long run, finally dying out and being replaced by CD-ROM and then DVD right around the millennium.

Slop print: What we would now call a roughcut, except it really was rough—a crude print from film dailies marred by splice marks and the editor’s grease pencil lines showing where dissolves, fades and titles would go.

Kabel/Windsor/Avant-Garde/Bookman: Four of the trendiest and most popular typefaces of their time, these look like the typographic equivalent of 70s hairstyles now, and can only be used in an ironic, retro-style layout.

Laminate: What agencies and creatives did with samples of their print work when they had to go in a portfolio bag—had them welded between 2 pieces of plastic. A bunch of these in a portfolio made for very heavy lifting, especially compared to an online link.

Overhead: Now it means operating costs. Then it meant the projector used to display transparencies to the same bored people who now sit through PowerPoints.

Burke opening: The 1st widely used day-after recall test for measuring the impact of TV commercials was the Burke test. When agencies figured out they could bump their Burke score with a loud, interruptive noise or action in the first 5 seconds of the commercial, the Burke opening was born.

Spec (as a verb): Marking up a typewritten piece of copy to tell the typesetter (see “Hot Type” above) how it is to be set: “Kabel U/lc 16/20 max width 50p”. A basic art director skill now largely forgotten.

:45: A luxurious length for a TV commercial—not too short (:30) and not too long (:60). Ask any copywriter and he or she will tell you their best TV spots often come out 36 or 38 seconds long. Nowadays, you wind up cutting out the good stuff. With :45s, you didn’t have to.

Below the Line: A perjorative term for any marketing activity other than a nationally-aired television campaign. It used to mean direct mail, sales promotion, coupons, etc. It still does, except now, in the digital age, you can get a Cannes Titanium Lion for it.

Elbert Budin: The Rembrandt of food photography. Budin was the first commercial director to figure out how to make food look delicious on the small screen, and he influenced everyone who came after—including Ridley Scott.

By: Stephen Feinberg

Know what my favorite commercial on the Olympics is so far? This one.

I know it’s a craptastic riff on Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I know that it’s a Trojan Horse for metered internet access.

I don’t care. I love it. You know why? Because it’s 100% Olympics-free.

No slo-mo. No idealized human forms flying through space. No adoring, rapturous parents. And no stinkin’ rings.

I’m not sure what’s going on here—did they not pay up for sponsorship rights? The spots are clearly running in the national feed, as opposed to local, and every other advertiser in the pod is Olympic up the wazoo: United, P&G, TD Ameritrade, Kelloggs, etc. etc.

Whatever. After endless faux-Chariots of Fire soundtracks and strained visual metaphors (United Airlines, I’m talking to you), this piece of straightforward retail shlock is like cool water in the desert.

Verizon: Official absolutely nothing of the Olympic Games. Thank you.

By: Stephen Feinberg

…is the ugly, confusing screen in the middle of the dashboard that increasingly controls not only navigation and phone but such previously mundane functions as temperature, gear selection and music. This trend has accelerated in seeming defiance of consumer dissatisfaction. Ford has made its dreadful (and dreadfully named) MyFord Touch one of the centerpoints of its marketing in 2012, and in a Lexus hybrid thingy I recently test-drove, you couldn’t travel 10 feet without scrolling through a bunch of windows and drop-down menus.

Matt Seiden’s protests aside, this technology sucks. It’s badly designed, glitch-y and hard on the eyes. And that’s not just me talking: everyone from curmudgeonly Consumer Reports to tech geeks at Wired agree screen-based controls (and their unruly siblings, voice-activated commands)  are not ready for prime time and can put you in a ditch or worse when you’re hunting for the menu option you want when that semi in front of you takes a turn without signaling. J.D. Power found screen-based technology the #1 source of complaints among vehicle owners recently.

Kludgy tech? Sloppy engineering? Bad aesthetics? Bean-counter oversight? Big potential market? That’s a recipe for….


Am I missing something? Why hasn’t BMW or Mercedes or Porsche partnered with Apple to solve this? Is it Teutonic pride? Is it Apple’s take-it-or-leave-it approach with partners? Or is it (my theory) that Apple would want a free hand in redesigning the rest of the vehicle/s instrument panel or entire interior for that matter to showcase its jewel? Can you see the ghost of Steve Jobs being happy with the iDash system being housed in a fake zebrawood console?

By: Stephen Feinberg

This is the header of the latest fundraising email I got from the Obama organization this week. I don’t know much about fundraising or political campaign running, but I do know something about headlines.

“The end?” is not a good headline.

Raising the spectre of pointlessness and futitility is rarely the best tactic. Doesn’t matter if you’re selling presidents or Prego spaghetti sauce.

And making it a rhetorical question doesn’t take the curse off it. It makes it worse. Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer, knows you never ask a question you don’t know the answer to or don’t want the jury to know the answer to. You certainly don’t want someone like me, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, wondering “I don’t know….is it the end?”

Thank goodness there are people like Tod Akin to keep me feeling optimistic about the outcome in November. This email sure as hell didn’t.