Ed McCabe on Ed McCabe

I got the book "Mad Ave" a while ago. It wasn't expensive--think I paid around five dollars-- but there's not much new in it if you've read much about the history of advertising. (If you haven't you should get it because it's a good introduction to history's great advertising.) There was, however, one excellent section written by Ed McCabe. And I've taken the liberty to put that here so you don't have to spend money on the book, unless you really want to. Well not the whole thing, because that would be excessive, but many of the parts I loved.

Ed McCabe is one of my favorite ad people ever. His writing is outstanding. It's forceful. And it's dripping with humanity. This passage made me really happy.

In the agency there was an attractive woman named Karen, an art buyer, who unwittingly launched my career as an advertising copywriter. The art file room was in the middle of the art and copy departments, and a few times a day Karen would ascend the ladder to put away or take down some piece of artwork while we all stood around pretending to have our minds, and eyes, on something other than up her skirt. Had this been the 1960s instead of the 1950s, some efficiency expert would no doubt have come in and seen to it that the most frequently used art files were placed on the bottom for easy access instead of the top, which required a long, long stretch, and in so doing destroy the morale of an entire company.

From my lofty perch at the bottom of the traffic department I could see pretty much everything else that was going on above me in the agency. One of the things I saw was a copywriter with an overwhelming workload, who, along with the rest of the company, had the hots for Karen. One day I went into his office and commiserated with him. I knew that he'd much rather be going out to lunch with Karen than working on the trade ad he had due that afternoon. I suggested he let me take a crack at writing the ad o he'd have the afternoon free. I worked through lunch with the art director, and the ad got produced and ended up wining an award. So began my life as a copywriter.

Of course that wasn't all there was to it. At night i read the dictionary, And the Harvard Classics. And ever book about advertising on about anybody who was in advertising. And all the books by Strunk and White on writing and structure. For practice I would take a sentence, any sentence--say "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." I'd rework it dozens of times. At first, I was careful not to change the meaning, just trying to make it cleaner, smoother, tighter, until it was elegant in its economy and taut with power. Gradually, I would shape it into something that approached advertising, shifting meaning, building in a sales pitch, until, maybe hundreds of lines later, out came something like "Outjump any dog! Get a fox." To many of today's creative people  I'm sure this kind of exercise would seem unnecessary, even silly. Nowadays they go to a school that teaches them how to put together a portfolio that will get them nice-paying jobs without really knowing how to do the jobs.

...Two things that happened that changed my life. First, I received my christmas bonus, a check for many thousands of dollars. I got really angry because I felt it was way too much. I reasoned that if I had received such a fat bonus for having been there only six months and doing relatively little, there must be people there amassing obese bonuses for doing even less. I didn't want to be involved with such a screwed-up place. I couldn't survive in a company that didn't understand the value of contribution or of a hard-earned buck. So I tried to give the bonus back. My boss laughed at me and said I couldn't give it back.

A couple months later, I heard of a job opening at a new small agency called Carl Ally, Inc. It paid exactly half of what I was then making, but I'd worked with one of the principals there and knew we shared similar beliefs about advertising, so my interest was piqued.I immediately called to apply for the job, met with key people at their offices after work the next day, and had the job the day after that. Of course I couldn't tell anyone else that I had taken such a massive paycut. They would have thought I was completely nuts. No one I know of in advertising has ever moved so quickly forward by going so steeply backwards. Within two years I had tripled my salary, owned stock in the agency, and my work was becoming famous. I own much to Carl Ally for that.

...Shortly [after turning down a job at DDB] I became a partner in my own agency, Scali, McCabe, Sloves, and I would call upon Bill (Bernbach) for advice many times over the next few years. One bit of advice he gave me I followed, and he dined out on it for years. At lunch one day I complained to him how we'd been in business three or fur years and that we just weren't growing fast enough. He said, "Ed, you're doing fabulous work on Volvo. But that's not enough. you need three visible accounts with work that good."

Not long after, we got the Barney's Men's Store account and Perdue Chicken. The work we did for them was noticed, talked about, and very successful. Finally, my agency began to soar. Every time I had lunch with Bill Bernbach after that he would turn to everyone at the table and tell the story of the time I had asked his advice And how he had told me we needed three visible accounts with great work. He'd always ask  rhetorically, of course, "And then what do you think he did?" Everyone at the table would sit silently, respectfully, including myself, waiting. "He did it!" Then I'd blush and he'd beam.

...What are my feelings about advertising today? I still love it. I still love making advertising. I love understanding what advertising is and what it isn't. But I've grown intolerant of what the business of advertising has become. I feel like a former revolutionary who isn't much stimulated by mere evolution.

Advertising has evolved into a business driven by megalomaniacs who know a lot about making money but little or nothing about making advertising. In some respects it's also being driven by "creatives," who have it wrong to the opposite extreme. They believe the ad or the commercial is everything and that winning awards is something. They've lost sight of the fact that advertising, in and of itself isn't anything. Advertising's sole purpose is to be the cause of something else. To cause a sales increase. To cause a shift in perception. To cause the creation of an edifice of imagery that allows a product or service t be something. But advertising itself is nothing. Nothing but a means to an end. Only fools believe the means is as important or significant as the end.

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  • "More like a couple of fairly meek and apathetic protestors gently waving a placard in an empty cul-de-sac." See, there's good stuff like this being posted there constantly. This is from Revolution, my arse.

John Lewis Christmas Advert. It's great from every perspective.

Thor 2 ad that takes the piss out of AT&T ads and is funny.

Heh, scamps. (via AdLand)

Wylie Dufresne and Eric Ripert cooking together.

He commits to the bit. (via TDE)

Cardboard. Heartbreak.

*Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme is in no way a sponsor of Gonefibbin.com, Ad Caulk, or the writer. We wouldn't mind if they wanted to be, though.

The real world and the marketing world. Which do you want to live in?

I think the internet has a collective memory problem. 

Case in point, interactive music videos. 

The first time I saw one of these I was 18, sitting in my room in my parents basement. Probably up way too late. And someone, somewhere posted about the Cold War Kids music video for I've Seen Enough. And it blew my mind. Sure, it was slow to load but this was cool, man! This was something special.

And this was ages before HTML five, CSS3 and all the other trinkets people talk about today.

Now, years down the line, marketers have co-opted this technique. And they're not doing it much better (if any better) than the Cold War Kids back in 2009. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing but maybe it shouldn't be as celebrated as it is. Because by celebrating these things we're creating two worlds for content. 

One, the real world, where people get to be experimental and wonderful and really do things that are astounding. The second, the marketing world, where people are patted on the back just for getting something made. 

That's not the point of marketing. Something should be remarkable because it is a thing in marketing. It should be remarkable because it's a thing in the world. this is rare, sure. But if that's not the goal then what is? What are we doing here aside from jerking each other off? 

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Nary a day goes by that I don't think of you, dearest Internet. You are the love of my life! Come to my embrace and never leave. Never let me go without the bounty of links you provide.

  • Art means making the obligatory and mundane parts novel. (It's a post all about conventions in Genre fiction. But there are some seriously good lessons in there as far understanding marketing conventions. I saw it was an explanation of how Edge Shave Gel, just an example, can make such a dull ad doing the same things Old Spice does. It's all in how conventions are treated.)

Marketing convention

My head spun the first time I heard the phrase "marketing convention" used to justify a decision for creative work. "Advertising shouldn't follow conventions," I thought, "We should be defying conventions! Blazing new trails!" But marketing convention held, the work went out, and people were generally happy.

Still, to me, it doesn't seem like the work should try to follow conventions. Especially when the first job of any advertising is to get noticed. To say there's no precedent for something, and use that as a reason against it, seems foolish. 

This is not a new idea. Helmut Krone used to talk about creating a different "page" for each clients. Giving a print ad a look that is distinct to X Corp or Z Co. Paul Arden talks about that in his book too. And it comes up again and again in "Ordinary Advertising and How To Avoid It Like The Plague."

But people still fall into the trap that advertising needs to look a certain way. Or be a certain way. Even when that's a surefire way to render yourself and your clients invisible. 

Now this doesn't mean I'm advocating for novelty for novelty's sake. Because that's just as bad. But doing something different from the rest of the market makes advertising a hell of a lot easier.

You can learn more about marketing from a relationship podcast than a year's worth of Business Insider articles.

One of my favorite podcasts has nothing to do with marketing. In fact, it's a podcast about a topic I thought I'd never be interested in. It's about relationships.

The podcast is This Feels Terrible. It's hosted by Erin McGathy, a very funny improv person and all around person. And it's not a standard relationship podcast. Rather, she interviews comedians about their dating lives. Sometimes the episodes go off the rails but her choice of subject means there's rarely an episode not worth listening to.

One of the best episodes, in my opinion, is a break from form. She had artists Wayne White and Mimi Pond on episode 21 of the podcast. They're artists. And they're married.

You'd know Mimi from a little show called The Simpsons. She wrote the first episode ever aired. She's also a cartoonist and illustrator. 

You'd know Wayne from a little show called Pee Wee's Playhouse. He designed most of the sets and puppet characters. You may have also seen them in the excellent documentary about Wayne called Beauty Is Embarrassing. Needless to say, they're an excellent, interesting couple. And their episode of This Feels Terrible is outstanding. I've kept it on my phone since the day it came out.

The stuff about their relationship and courtship is good. But you should listen to the podcast to hear about that stuff. I'm here to talk about the end of it. 

Erin, who claims to be a bad interviewer but is completely the opposite, asked Wayne and Mimi what advice they'd give to artists. Wayne prefaces this advice by saying that he's doesn't want to serve as an example. But he's a pretty inspiring example if I've ever seen one.

Here's what he said:

Wane: "Perseverance. That's what I say every time someone asks me that. That's the number one trait you gotta have. Perseverance. Never give up. All that other stuff: vision, wit, talent, that'll take care of itself as long as you never give up. That's the #1 leading edge thing you gotta have. Because most people give up. Because most of art making is not very fun. It isn't. It's 75% hard work and boring work. Drudgery. But, the joy you get at the end of it makes up for all of that. They don't tell you the joy comes at the end. It's the digging that tunnel that's the hardest part. And that's where most people give up 'cause they think it just moment after moment of pure epiphany and magic. And the magic is not there most of the time. It's ditch digging. It's painful. And it's boring. And it's very, very hard to do. Perseverance. That's my simple, hard headed, plain, boring advice to any artist. Perseverance #1. [Mimi: Get up and draw every day.] And most people don't want to hear that. they want some kind of like 'Oh! Nurture the blahblahblah.' No."

Mimi: "Just get up and do it!"

Wayne (ctd): "Just put your nose to the grindstone and work through the pain."

It's not the newest advice. But it's advice that gets forgotten. People are always looking for a silver bullet. Or one "awesome quick tip to [fill in the blank]." 

But those things don't exist. At least not in a way that makes people happy. 

The silver bullet is hard work. And persistence. The only way to do something is to, as Mimi said, get up and do it. Or do it sitting down. But you have to try much harder than you expected to make anything good. To make anything. Because shortcuts and art do not go hand in hand.

Wayne said one other thing in the podcast that I enjoyed:

"I'm enamored with the idea of the heroic effort. You know? Biting off more than you chew then doing it. Painting yourself into a corner and escaping. Slaying the dragon. You know? Going out into the light and being the hero. That's part of my overly-romanticized view of the world."

It's heartening because things have worked out for him. He has a unique view on the world and through effort (and luck) he made things happen. I like that a lot.

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Oh Friday. It comes every week as swiftly as it did the last. Dependable. Friendly. Thank goodness the whoever invented friday. And this friday, like all others. Is a cause to post a bunch of links.

  • Empathy (in advertising) by Keith Byrne


(via Everywhere On The Internet)


(Customer uploaded image on a NERF Gun on ToysRUs' website.)

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Two in one week. And this one's hefty. How did you all ever get so lucky?

  • "Without the benefit of details, I say stay the course.  I say keep failing.  Fall flat on your face, feel every scrape, roll in the dirt and scream in frustration.  Tell your mother you love her but the fact is, she either raised a doctor or she raised a girl that’s going to fail, spectacularly, at it, and in either case, she’s done her part." - Dan Harmon's advice to someone who dropped out of college to pursue medicine.
  • Cheaping Out by Sell! Sell! (They've had an amazing run of excellent blog posts lately.)

How designers destroyed the world. (It's really about integrity in any creative act.) via The Denver Egotist

Inside Hot Wheels' design studio.

Quantum computing is interesting and confusing and a whole bunch of other adjectives.

Han Kjøbenhavn knows how to do cool.

Fashion advertising is something I never quite understood. It's always felt a bit like looking at one a renaissance painting where every object represents something else.

Then, yesterday, I saw this fall/winter preview for Han Kjøbenhavn (a Dutch designer, in case you were wondering.)

On one hand it is a typical empty fashion film. Not saying much other than "if you wear these clothes you'll be this cool."

On the other hand it's so much more than an empty fashion film. It has aggression. It has a personality. Everything is slightly different. The casting is great. the color pallate is great. And the scenes are completely surreal while staying grounded. It reminded me of a Paul Thomas Anderson or David Lynch film.

Most telling, it works for me as an ad. Because it makes me, someone with very little interest in fashion, want to buy clothes. 

Though, maybe that's a bad sign.