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Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Auld Lang Syne – What The Hell Does That Mean ?

In Madison Avenue on December 31, 2011 at 8:21 am

In a few hours, millions of us will be singing a song we have no idea what they lyrics are, or what they mean. So as a service to you, I will provide the lyrics – but as to the meaning, I have no idea.  Maybe if we break it down line by line it will help.

Line #1

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Hmmm, that doesn’t clear anything up. In the words of Harry Burns from ‘…when Harry Met Sally,’ does that mean you should forget old acquaintances or feel guilty because we don’t think of them?’  Here’s my theory, it’s a new year, out with the old and in with the new. The song is telling us ‘hey, it’s a new year, those old friends should be forgotten, a whole new year is in front of you. Don’t even think about it. Because if you did, you’d feel really bad about it.’  OK, maybe it doesn’t mean that, but it could be.

Line #2

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

Well that line cleared everything up, didn’t it. I just looked up ‘auld lang syne’ on Wikipedia, and it mean ‘old long ago’ – so the second line make no sense at all. I think the guuy who wrote this little song needed something that rhymed with mind and he/she thought ‘I know, I’ll throw in some Scottish, how about auld lang syne’ just to screw with people.

Line #3 – The Chorus

For auld lang synem my dear, for auld lang syne. We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Finally, something that makes some sense. For old long ago, we’ll go drinking. Let’s face it, the Scottish knew that if we were going to really enjoy New Year’s Eve, we needed to toast eachother with with a good glass of whiskey. So if you see a friend this evening that you haven’t seen in a long time, buy them a ‘cup of kindness’ otherwise known as a stiff drink.

Here’s the other thing about this song, how did it become the official song of New Years Eve? An old Scottish tune that makes no sense in English was made popular on American radio by a Canadian of Italian parents named Guy Lombardo. Now that’s what I call the great American melting pot. He played this song for 30 years on the radio and TV beginning in 1929.

Just as Sally says to Harry ‘what ever it means, it’s about old friends’ So, tonight, enjoy New Year’s Eve, and remember old friends are forever. Make sure you call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. And life a cup of kindness in their honor.

For Auld Lang Syne. Whatever the hell that means.

Happy New Year.

New Year’s Eve In Times Square

In Madison Avenue on December 30, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Tomorroow night is New Year’s Eve. If you’re thinking about spending midnight in Times Square in NYC, I have one bit of advice for you.

Don’t do it.

I have, and let me tell you, it’s not as much fun as it looks on TV.  First of all,  remember, it’s December in New York.  It can be really really cold. Second, there are a lot of really drunk people in a very small area. Which means there’s a high probabilty on at least one of these things happening to you:

1) Someone vomits so close to you that you can smell it all night. 2) Someone vomits on you and you have to smell it all night. 3) Someone warns you they’re going to kick your ass for no reason other than their drunk and cold and you’re the closest person to them.

I actually had someone hit me in the head with an empty beer bottle. Yes, in their excitement, they tossed an empty beer bottle in the air, not thinking that the law of physics will come into play, and that this bottle will eventually come down.

Oh, and there are so many people in Times Square, that my friend and I were afraid that we were going to get separated by all the people pushing and shoving. So we ties are arms together with a scarf. Of course, this made perfect sense to us at the time. But have you ever been in a three legged race? You know how much stability you have? Well, it’s about the same when you tied yourself together with a scarf. Which means, we were an inch away from falling and getting trampled at any given moment. We untied quickly.

Then there’s the fun part. Getting out of Times Square. Yes, when a million people try to leave somewhere at the exact same time it’s a little difficult to get anywhere. Plan on at least an hour to go 2 – 3 blocks. And remember, one of your friends will be drunk, or has just puked or just got in a fight. So moving around NYC isn’t going to be easy.

So my advice to anyone considering going to Times Square. Don’t. Watch it on TV. Walk around anywhere in NYC that isn’t Times Square. Go skating in Central Park. Have a drink at the outside bar on top of the Pennisula Hotel (if you want to be outside). Do anything. But don’t go see the big ball drop in person.

You’ll thank me later.

10,000 Hours

In Madison Avenue on December 29, 2011 at 9:49 am

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers it takes 10,000 hours to become good at anything.  For example, The Beatles were so good because by the time they were ‘discovered’ they had practiced for 10,000 hours in strip bars in Germany away from the scrutiny of record company executives.  NHL hockey players are great because they’ve been playing and practicing (and being coached) from the time they were 5-years-old. By the time they’re playing Junior League Hockey they’ve gotten in their 10,000 hours.  Bill Gates was a programming and computer expert because he logged 10,000 hours on a computer before he was 18 years old.

If that’s all true, this blog is going to suck for the next 20 years.

But then again, perhaps my years of advertising copywriting counts against my 10,000 hours.  OK, let me add it up.

32 years in advertising. Let’s say I worked on average 48 weeks a year and approximately 40 hours a week (probably more – but that’s another story). That’s 61,440 hours.  But was I actually ‘writing’ all that time? Of course not. We have to subtract internal meetings, client meetings, going to shoots and edit sessions. And let’s not forget just sitting around dreaming up ideas.  So let’s say I was writing 15% of the time.  That’s 9,214 hours.

Let’s also factor in the time I’ve spent writing a book that I still haven’t finished. That’s another 500 hours.

There was also the outline I wrote for a Broadway musical that I dreamed up while on a TV shoot in Australia. Let’s say that was 240 hours.

There was also the time when I thought I was going to write a series of children’s books. But that only lasted about a week.  Let’s tack on another 30 hours for that.

Grand total: 9,984 hours.

But wait: How about the 15 posts I’ve already written for this series.  They took on average 1 hour each.

That raises my total to 9,999 hours.

So, if Malcolm Gladwell is correct, my next entry tomorrow will be the first entry that does totally suck. I think that’s amazing.  I’ve worked my entire career to get to this point. The point where what I’m writing doesn’t totally suck.  This is an amazing relief. You have no idea how good I’m feeling right now.  I can’t wait until tomorrow.  You never know – tomorrow you may come here and read the next great novel. And amazing piece of poetry. A screenplay that will make you laugh, cry and stand up and cheer.

Or of course, Malcolm Gladwell could be wrong.

And tomorrow may suck just as much as today.  We won’t know until tomorrow. But I have a pretty good idea.

Welcome, You’ve Got Mail

In Madison Avenue on December 28, 2011 at 9:50 am

If you were born after 1985 – you don’t remember the pre-internet, pre-e-mail days. That’s because (in my opinion) the world changed when America Online came in to my home for the first time.

I was an early adopter. I just didn’t know it at the time.

I remember installing AOL into my Apple Mac SE – and off I went. My e-mail address was simply my name. No numbers, nothing. And I remember when I got my first e-mail. A voice inside my computer would say “Welcome, you’ve got mail” and it was exciting – because nobody ever got e-mail before.

Little would I know how soon I would learn to hate e-mail. Now, of course we carry our e-mail everywhere with us. I have multiple devices to check my e-mail. My iPad, my laptop, my iPhone, my desktop in the office. I can’t get away from it.

A few years ago, I did some research and found an interesting generational difference with e-mail. If you’re over 30 years old, you have a need to be connected. You have to know what’s going on at home, at work, in the world. If you’re under 30 years old, you have a fear of being disconnected from your friends. There is this fear that no matter what you’re doing, your friends may be doing something better. So, if you’re at a party on the Lower East Side, you’re worried that your friends may be having a better time in Brooklyn. It has nothing to do with work. Or the extended world. Just your world.

I know I always check my work e-mail before I check my personal e-mail. And my friends know if they want to get me immediately, they send me and e-mail. If I want to get my daughters, I send a TXT message. I can go hours without checking if someone sent me a TXT. One of my co-workers is an avid TXT messager. It drives her NUTS that I don’t answer her messages in 1.2 seconds. In fact, there are days when I didn’t even notice that one came through. But an e-mail, I look at immediately.

E-mail is/was special. Look at the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie “You’ve Got Mail.” The characters had an entire love affair over e-mail They would wake each morning and check to see if their secret ‘friend’ had written back. (As an aside – I hate this movie – as I could never fall in love with someone who put me and my family’s bookstore out of business) Every morning I have to weave through the dozens of internet offers to even FIND a special e-mail from a friend. This morning I had 36 ‘special offers’ from retailers, and 1 message from someone who read my blog (thank you Tom).

And while I love the invention of e-mail, and I use it often, I do miss conversation. There are times at work when I’m on the phone with someone discussing a project. And they ask if I could send them an e-mail with the directions instead of talking about them. It’s not that they don’t want to talk. It’s just that they want a written record of what’s being requested. A cover-your-ass record. I get it. I also hate it.

I guess this means we’ve come full circle. My grandparents use to have stacks of old letters that they wrote. Now, I have folders of old e-mails. Someday, I’ll look back at them and realize that they really were important. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

Just like back in 1985.

My First Portfolio

In Madison Avenue on December 27, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I don’t know why, but today I thought about my first advertising portfolio. I think I still have it somewhere in some box in my basement. I remember thinking it was really good. But of course, I was wrong. It was crap. I just didn’t know any better.

I remember the ‘golden rules’ of portfolio creation. Twelve pieces. No more. No less. Three campaigns and 3 ‘one-off’ ideas. This showed that you could not only come up with a great idea, but that you knew how to campaign it.

For my first campaign, I created a series of print ads for a restaurant in my neighborhood named ‘Backstage.’ The entire restaurant had famous movie and theater posters lining the wall. It was a cool place to go. You always felt like a movie star was going to walk in any minute. (Of course, none ever did.) So I created a campaign that borrowed heavily on the golden age of the movies. Images of ‘famous looking’ people eating incredible meals a la the “Brown Derby.” I look back at my tagline in horror (now), because I can’t believe I wrote this line and thought it was good. “Backstage. Where the only star missing is you!”

I even used an exclamation point at the end. The dreaded ‘look at me!’ exclamation point. Why didn’t one of my college professors pull me aside and slap on the head and scream at me? Why didn’t the first person who interviewed me yell at me? Why didn’t I know better?

To be ‘edgy’ I also created a campaign for a sex toy shop ‘The Pleasure Chest.” This campaign was surprisingly good. It still holds up. Well, OK, my art direction still could have used some improvement, but all things considered, it isn’t too bad. Next to a visual of a blow-up doll is a headline “find a sexual partner without any ego, even when inflated.” Another ad had a visual of another interesting device with the headline “In here, when our sales associates tell you to shove it up your ass, it’s considered customer service.” OK – not bad. Considering I probably had never been inside a sex toy shop at that point in my life.

The third campaign was just awful. I interned at a local agency and did a campaign for a community college. The work was bad. But it got produced so I thought “well, it’s produced work, I better put it in my book.” WRONG. The campaign had no idea. No execution. Nothing. Just a photo of smiling college age students with the headline “Learn without Leaving Home.” Really that’s what I wrote. As if staying close to home is really aspirational to a college age high school senior. Why didn’t I just write “If you can’t afford anything better.” Or better yet, “Drive your parents crazy for 4 more years.” Yikes.

The best ad in my book was an ad I did for a HMO in Philadelphia. The visual was of a newborn baby. The headline “36 hours old. $210,341.23 in debt.” This ad actually helped me get a job. The creative director who looked at my book told me it was the only thing in my book worth keeping. He also asked if it was an accident or could create more good work. I told him I was confident I could do more. He told me he wasn’t sure, but would give me a shot.

I learned a lot from this first portfolio. Don’t think you know everything, because you don’t. Don’t forget that your portfolio is never ever ever finished. And that I had to love every single piece, because when some stranger tells you your work is not that good, you have to be able to tell him/her why you think it’s great.

I try to remember my first portfolio when I’m looking at the portfolios of college students. They think their work is great – just like I thought my work was great. But they’re wrong. Most times their work is not completely thought through. I plan to change that. That’s why I’m teaching a portfolio class this spring. I’m determined to make sure this next batch of students are better prepared than I was as a college senior.

I’ve gotten so much from my career in advertising. It’s time to give a little back.

Did You Get What You Wanted ?

In Madison Avenue on December 26, 2011 at 1:27 pm

OK – let’s admit it to ourselves – the holidays are not really about getting together with family, or about the holiday spirit.

The holidays are about giving and receiving gifts.

We work in advertising.  We create countless commercials that tell people what they should be getting each other. Even my 9-year-old asked someone if they got their gift at Jareds.  Lexus has theme music that is supposed to tip someone off that they got a car (as if the giant bow wasn’t a big enough give away.

I mean, even our (American) image of Santa is colored with advertising. Santa’s red and white suit? That’s not some time honored tradition. It was created in an ad – by Coca-Cola. (Hmmmm, what colors should we choose – I know our Coca-Cola brand colors – RED and WHITE.)

So the question still stands – did you give what you wanted ? And did you get what you wanted.  I know I did. I only wanted one thing – a music stand. Yup – that’s all I wanted was a $20 music stand. I told everyone in my family.  And guess what, I got two.  Perfect. Exactly what I had hoped for.

So, maybe I’m just a little cynical. Maybe I feel that the holidays are way to commericalized. Maybe it’s partially my fault. Or maybe I just can’t admit to myself that in spite of everything, I love watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” every day for 25 days.

Happy Holidays

What if ?

In Madison Avenue on December 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Someone recently asked me “how do you come up with all your ideas?” And I very quickly responded that I had no idea. Ideas just came to me. I’d be thinking about a product or service — some problem that needed to be solved, and a notion just came to me. Some random thought that sparked my interest. Something that I thought would be fun, or funny, or sad, or something. You know, got some form of a response.

But then I realized that wasn’t how I came up with ideas at all.

Most times, yes, some interesting thought will pop into my mind. But that’s just the beginning. The next step is all the work that goes into making that thought special. I call it “what if …” As in, “what if we did the entire thing backwards?” or “what if we didn’t do that at all, but did this and then did that?” I realize I spend hours and hours every day saying “what if?”

I was just reading a quote from John Lassiter from Pixar talking about Steve Jobs. According to him, the beginning of the iPhone was a simple “what if” from Steve Jobs. He says that one day Steve said “you know, everyone I know has a cell phone, but everyone hate them. What if we created a phone that people would love?” Then when creating functionality for the iPod started as “what if you could hold 1,000 songs in your pocket?” Of course, later he added “what if you could have all your music, all your photos, your favorite videos and your web browser in your pocket?”

What if can be pretty powerful.

So let’s think about the most pressing issues of our day — our government grid lock. I recently posed this question to a group of co-workers. “What if we elected our government officials for one 8-year term with no option for re-election?” My thought was that without the worry of being re-elected, government officials could hopefully only worry about doing that right thing for the people the represent. We wouldn’t have ‘life time’ government officials. It would also make voting much more important — hey, if we’re going to be stuck with someone for 8 years, we better be pretty sure.

Think about what you’re doing? What you’re working on? No matter what your occupation, you can dig a little deeper by asking a good “what if” question from time to time.

Inspiring Holiday E-mails

In Madison Avenue on December 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Working in advertising, every now and then you see a concept and wish you created it. You curse. You scream. You’re mad at yourself for not thinking of it. But this week, someone sent me a holiday e-mail that was sent by a New York creative director to his team. I loved every word. I wish I wrote this. This captures exactly why I love the career I’ve chosen. And while I don’t know anyone who works at this agency, I wish I did. I wish I knew the reaction the people internally felt upon receiving it. Did they love it, too? Did they roll their eyes? I want to believe they loved it.

Here it is. I think it’s amazing. I wish I wrote it. Enjoy.

Subject: STILL in advertising- complete!

Recently, a certain unnamed and well intentioned person, upon hearing I’ve been in the advertising business some 20+ years, said to me, “Wow. How you feel about that?”, and I imagined from the tone of voice, that I was supposed to say something like, “God, I know. Time to do something more productive with my life.” Well, guess what?

I love advertising. I love the jeans and tee shirts I get to wear to work. I love the crazy mad brilliant people I get to work with. I even love solving the sometimes ridiculous challenges that our clients throw at us.

I love the fact that every day, its something different. And that if you fall short today, you have another shot at greatness tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.

I love building brands, and I really love building an agency. Speed bumps and all.

I love the loonies, the eccentrics, the overly-passionate, and the super hard workers I come in contact with every day. Sure beats making change at a bank or staring at stock tickers all day long.

I love the fact that in this business, you can never fully prepare for any day, because something unexpected will always be thrown at you. I love when the client asks you a question you’re not ready for, and you have to rely on your instincts and think fast, real fast.

I love that when everything goes pear shaped the night before a pitch we all band together to fix it- and somehow always deliver.

I love the stuff we make. Funny, beautiful, smart, meaningful. I love seeing it on tv, online, in a magazine.

I really love passing on what I know. And every day, learning something new, too. I love never being able to get too comfortable. I love having to constantly keep learning and pushing myself. And I love being challenged by creative people half my age (well, to a point).

I love the (sometimes delusional) belief that we’re actually making a difference in the world.

I love the wacky office parties, and the occasional bar room bitch sessions, the drunken faux pas that we laugh about tomorrow.

I even love the people that came and went, for the pieces they added, and the legendary stories they left behind.

I kinda love it all. Anyway, that’s what I was thinking. And I thought it was worth sharing. Despite all the blood, sweat, and tears, it’s good to be reminded every so often…

Advertising is a pretty amazing career to be in.

Happy holidays

I hope you have an incredible holiday. A great new year. I will be posting occasionally over the next few weeks. So check back.

Fist Fight On The Subway

In Madison Avenue on December 21, 2011 at 8:13 am


I can’t believe I almost got beat up on the subway yesterday for bringing home a bag of holiday gifts. Who knew that you’re not allowed to carry anything on to the subway. I mean, I’ve watch people bring bikes on to the subway. I’ve watched musicians play instruments on the subway. I’ve even listened to countless people asking for money on the subway bring shopping carts filled with goods for the homeless.
Ah, but my tote bag was too much for this woman standing next to me.
I guess my Strand Bookstore tote bag, that was given to me earlier in the day, touched her leg as the subway was filling up with passengers at the 34th Street station. She started to yell at the top of her lungs, “stop touching me, will you please stop touching me….” Since I had no idea the tote bag was touching her leg, I did what I would normally do when someone starts screaming in the subway — I ignored her.
Well, clearly, the worst thing you can do on a subway (besides accidentally touching someone’s leg with a tote bag) is to ignore them. This set her off. Now she starts really yelling. Arms start waving. This is when she pushes me into fellow passengers on the subway.
This is when things got a little crazy. Other passengers are now getting mad — at me — for not moving away from this crazy woman. They start yelling at me — “will you just move” “stop touching her” “what’s going on!”
I thought I was in some strange foreign film. Is this really happening to me?
Now the woman begins spitting on people. Not me (whew), but anyone around her. This got the subway car to clear out pretty quickly. People start ducking out of the way. Yelling even louder. It was nuts.
Oh, I should have mentioned — I was only going one stop to 42nd Street.
At this point, I was never happier to get off the subway. When the doors opened at 42nd, I got out, headed to the shuttle, and had a relaxing trip to Grand Central.
So, I never really got into a fist fight. I was pushed. Spit. Yelled. Cursed. And shoved. But no blows were landed.
I blame the Strand Bookstore tote bag. I mean who carries a tote bag anymore?

The Worst Kept Secret In The World

In Madison Avenue on December 20, 2011 at 11:32 am


Every now and then, you keep a secret thinking that nobody else knows – because you were told not to tell anyone.

And then you find out everyone knows.

So, here it is. I’m letting everyone know.

I’m going to be teaching a Senior Portfolio Class beginning Thursday night, February 2nd. If you’re going to take my class, it’s going to be a lot of fun and a lot of work.

Here are the things to bring to the first class:

1 – Thick skin – yes, I plan to be brutally honest
2 – Your portfolio – and if we’ve met and I’ve given you feedback, I’d suggest making some changes before the first class.
3 – A sketchbook and a marker – yes, we’re going to be drawing
4 – Your favorite ad of all time – find something. A print ad. A website. Bring it to class.
5 – A campaign you hate – same story. Find something you hate. We’ll talk about why it’s not that good.

Now here’s the other part of the secret. I’m not teaching alone. I plan to bring guest speakers to as many classes as possible. I have working for me a group of very talented writers and art directors who were in your shoes just last year. They can talk about their portfolios. Interview nightmares. What they wore to their interviews. And basically give you a ‘real world’ assessment of what it’s like to work in advertising.

Not to mention what it’s like to work for me.

Hmmmm, on second thought, maybe I’ll skip the guest speakers. Anyway, it’s going to be fun. And I’m looking forward to it. So, I’ll see you on February 2nd.

I still plan to write during the holiday break, so check back often. I grade better when my blog gets a lot of page views.

Christina Fieni

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