Tuesday, February 9

The Only Good Thing to Come Out of This Pandemic: The Befitting Failure of New York City's Hudson Yards

It's official: that gleaming monument to hubris known as Hudson Yards—the mega-development on the West Side that made Tenth Avenue unnavigable for years and ruined the Manhattan skyline with a bunch of ugly, dystopian towers, not to mention that rusting atrocity The Vessel—is a big fat $25 billion flop, as the Times reports. I'm sure similar, schadenfreude-stoked stories were written in the 1930s when the Empire State Building opened just in time for the Great Depression and sat half empty for years, but Hudson Yards is uniquely ill-timed, maybe even irredeemably cursed, as the pandemic has shuttered its marquee tenants (most notably Dallas import Neiman Marcus—as if the city didn't already have a surplus of homegrown retailers selling a bunch of overpriced stuff nobody can afford), while even that suicide-inviting, stairway-to-nowhere monstrosity that is its centerpiece has been mothballed. And the residents of the city are stuck with a hideous heap of hulking, deserted junk whose main purpose seems to be blocking the afternoon sun along the Hudson. Just think of what that $25 billion (and the many millions more in tax breaks and infrastructure projects devoted to the debacle) might've done to revamp New York's neighborhoods that are actually in need, or to help fight the virus that has devastated the city, or to provide affordable housing for working and middle class people who've been priced out of the borough. Meanwhile, don't worry about the developer, Steve Ross, and his merry band of capitalist thieves—they can always dry their tears with $100 bills and the eviction orders of all those widows and orphans.

Wednesday, December 30

Would Walter Cronkite Have an Instagram Account?

If you are a working journalist, as I am, you could be forgiven for wanting to off yourself daily for being reminded by other reporters of what a complete failure you are.

Let me say upfront that I have enjoyed the spoils of my career, of which there have been many. I've been honored to rub elbows with famous journalists and other bold-faced names. I've attended the Oscars, talked at the Cannes ad festival, and partied at the Tribeca Film Festival. I've gone on TV to talk about this or that on occasion. I've had celebrity writers pick fights with me, some of them public — among them Salman Rushdie and the late Jimmy Breslin. Those were a lot of fun.

But I never saw myself as the story. How naive of me.

Professors, albeit brilliant ones, who like to write about current events are now being classified not just as journalists but as superstar journalists. Consider Ben Smith's puff piece on Heather Cox Richardson in the Times this week. Richardson teaches American history at Boston College and has built an impressive following on Facebook and the newsletter platform Substack. She is a wonderful writer and teacher. What she does not do is journalism, which she is the first to admit. 

That doesn't stop Smith from hyperventilating that she's the future of our trade. He writes:

Dr. Richardson's focus on straightforward explanations to a mass audience comes as much of the American media is going in the opposite direction, driven by the incentives of subscription economics that push newspapers, magazines, and cable channels alike toward super-serving subscribers, making you feel as if you're on the right team, part of the right faction, at least a member of the right community. She's not the only one to have realized that a lot of people feel left out of the media conversation.

Richardson herself figures she has drawn so much attention (and so much success; her Substack account pulls down $1 million a year, Smith estimates) because she makes readers come away feeling "smarter, not dumber." Not only is that an incredibly arrogant thing to admit, but it's an insult to every committed journalist out there fighting to reveal some truth on this bleak mortal coil. (I do not include the bottom feeders among them. See: the New York Post.) If the public is too bored by what most of us toil to report, if they feel "dumber" after consuming our stuff, then may I suggest that the fault lies with the easily distracted, garbage-clogged lizard brain and its need (nay, craving) for quick and easy explanations. It requires some focus, after all, to absorb that characterized by even a suggestion of complexity. Or at least they have to assume some of the blame, as I see it.

The medium may make us "stars." That's not a new phenomenon. Consider H.L. Mencken, Nellie Bly, Martha Gellhorn, Hunter S. Thompson, Walter Winchell, Walter Cronkite, Walter Lippman, and other people who may or may not be named Walter. But doesn't it strike you as somewhat ludicrous that any of these people would have had newsletters on Substack or Medium? Or, Twitter accounts? If they'd been around in his time, no doubt Suetonius would've been active on Instagram and have had a personal stylist and book agent.

Let us consider this piece by McKay Coppins in the current issue of The Atlantic. Ask yourself: who is the subject of this story? 

Tragedy and disaster have always been the stuff that journalism careers are made of. But the Trump era has been especially rewarding to a certain class of Washington reporter. As the White House beat became the biggest story in the world, once-obscure correspondents were recast in the popular imagination as resistance heroes fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. They were showered with book deals, speaking gigs, and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. They got glow-ups to accompany their new cable-news contracts, and those glow-ups were covered in glossy magazines. Along the way, many of them adapted their journalism to cover an unusually mendacious and corrupt president (much to the delight of their new fan bases). As the story draws to an end, the reporters who got famous fighting with Trump are facing a question: What do we do now?

That's right: the subject is the journalist, naturally — not the POTUS, not the executive residence, not the republic, but the exalted reporter. As Albert Brooks's correspondent in the still-holds-up 80s film "Broadcast News" put it: "Yes, let's not forget, we are the real story here."

I wrote in this forum awhile back on how annoying these reporters are who lament not having Trump to cover anymore because they'll be "bored." To them I say, get a new job. I hear Substack is looking for fresh, new voices. Maybe they'll even pay for your stylist?

Saturday, December 19

I'm Still Grieving Simple, Elegant Grey, Hating on AKQA

Ad agencies are in the business of selling stuff with simple brand names and easy to understand messages — just not when it comes to themselves. As Ad Age reports, agency names have become seriously whack. I swear I think they used alphabet soup to come up with some of these: dentsumcgarrybowen, Muh-tay-zik / Hof-fer (which used to be the somehow even worse M/H VCCP), and what used to be good old reliable Grey getting swallowed up into something called AKQA Group. (If you ask me, AKQA kinda sucked as a name even before the merger. Who in the business of brand marketing would ever decide that AKQA is a better name than simple, elegant and storied Grey?) Remember when the idea was to make things simpler, not as impossible to make sense of as the Zodiac killer's cipher?

Wednesday, December 16

LGBTQ+-Themed 'Love Calls Back' Picks Up Ad Prize

I swear I don't do p.r. for these guys. But I can't help it if the Association of National Advertisers keeps doing newsworthy (or in this case, blog-worthy) stuff. 

Earlier this week, I wrote about the trade group's members selecting "pivot" as the Word of the Year. Now, they've selected the winners of their Multicultural Excellence Awards of 2020—and it was a good year for the agency McCann. 

ANA's Best in Show recognized what, for my money, was one of the best campaigns of the last couple of years: McCann's "Love Calls Back," for Verizon and PFLAG. The work was already recognized with awards like The One Show's Bronze Pencil and the Shorty Social Good Award.

The cornerstone of the campaign, which was launched last year and ran across all Verizon's channels, was a moving, four-minute film featuring LGBTQ+ people reconnecting and reconciling over the phone with family members who'd previously rejected them for their sexual identity. Verizon's exec vp and CMO Diego Scotti said the campaign was "grounded in Verizon's commitment to diversity and inclusion in our creative."  

McCann was also the grand prize winner in the LGBTQ+ category, for its work for Mastercard. And, McCann and Mastercard were recognized with the grand prize in the experiential marketing category.

In a killer year, it's good to have something to celebrate, and there was certainly a lot of terrific creative worthy of celebration. With that in mind (drumroll, and shameless plug), watch this space for two of my own advertising awards competitions, recognizing the Best Ads of 2020 and the Best Holiday Ads of the year. (They're not Lions—but hey, you gotta start somewhere.)

Monday, December 14

Let's Do the Pivot: Marketers Pick the Word of the Year

It was the year that everybody quarantined, masked up and tried like hell to not give up hope. But for marketers, it was the year of the pivot. 

The Association of National Advertisers has announced that "pivot" is its Word of the Year for 2020. Other popular terms it beat out: "virtual," "agility" and "resiliency."

Since 2014, the ANA has surveyed its members to identify the word most resonant with marketers. Nearly 300 members responded to an online survey this month.

Of course, pivot is a well-worn cliché of the business world. It was even the title of a 2016 book by former Google exec Jenny Blake. It also happens to be the name of a Canadian charter airline, a brand of mountain bikes, a defunct cable channel, and an Indianapolis ad agency. But perhaps never before has the theme of pivoting been so meaningful to so many in the global business community than in this year of COVID-19, a collapsing economy and demands for social justice. 

Here's some of what members of ANA's Global CMO Growth Council had to say about pivoting in 2020:

"We pivoted from physical experiences to digital experiences. We call this Priceless at Home. Brand-building never stops. It's not just advertising — it's a collective result of all the activities a company does that drives a brand, in good times and in not-so-good times. -Raja Rajamannar, CMO, Mastercard

"When the pandemic began, we started with a message focused on availability. We then pivoted to a more emotional message, celebrating that people were still enjoying our food, but in this new socially distanced world. ... Through all of this, we've let the consumer guide our messaging." -Morgan Flatley, senior vp and chief marketing and digital customer experience officer, McDonald's

"Everything has changed. In general, marketers should be focused on saying and doing things that are immediately useful to their customers. In a crisis, you connect by helping in a meaningful way." -Norman DeGreve, CMO, CVS Health

Previous ANA Words of the Year were "personalization," "artificial intelligence" and "programmatic."

After a year like this, one can only wonder what the Word of the Year for 2021 will be. 

Thursday, December 3

Dr. Fauci One of People Magazine's 'People of the Year'

In the bleakest year ever, People magazine gives us a little hope with its annual "People of the Year" issue, featuring the heroic Dr. Anthony Fauci on the cover. Dr. Fauci — who since the pandemic hit has been demonized at every turn by the torch-wielding, anti-science crowd — is, nonetheless, a true profile in courage. Not to throw shade at other honorees like George Clooney or Selena Gomez, but we will will always have Hollywood stars to look up to. On the other hand, a dedicated public servant like Dr. Fauci — up against impossible odds and holding our collective well-being in his hands — only comes along every so often. Kudos to People for making this light in the darkness in human form the year's sexiest cover boy.

Monday, November 30

I Don't Eat Chick-fil-A, I Don't Shop at Hobby Lobby, And I No Longer Consume Rupert Murdoch's Media

"Hi. I used to be a respected journalist."

I used to think I could visit the New York Post website to indulge in the gossip of Page Six or check out my horoscope without feeling I was actually supporting Rupert Murdoch's evil media empire. But like sneaking the occasional Chick-fil-A sandwich when nobody's looking and, thus, actively supporting a right wing racket, I'm afraid my conscience has got the best of me. 

The Post and Fox News Channel are helping to destroy American democracy (or what's left of it) as they continue to give credence to Donald Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud. The latest example was yesterday's criminally dishonest interview with Trump by once-respected financial journalist Maria Bartiromo, one of Fox's stars. Actually, it wasn't so much an interview (Trump's first since Election Day) as it was blatant propaganda posing as journalism. Vox writer Aaron Rupar wrote on Twitter that Bartiromo is "basically a North Korean news anchor now." In fact, Bartiromo became a trending topic on the social media platform. Everybody's talking about her debacle, in which she supported every dubious statement to come out of Trump's lying mouth — and as usual, there were many, many of them.

The judgment among Bartiromo's peers has been especially harsh, and deservedly so. The media are expert at eating their own, and they wasted no time trashing her embarrassing performance. "Maria Bartiromo's phenomenal flop," went the headline in The Washington Post. "A smorgasbord of disinformation," reported Vox. "This is propaganda," tweeted a CNN personality. 

Of course, were Fox an actual news organization, Bartiromo would be dismissed at once for not only lobbing softballs at a lying liar of a president but for egging him on. "The facts are on your side," she told him — without actually reporting any facts — in what will no doubt become a defining line in Bartiromo's righteous ignominy. 

The thing is, I suppose we should all be used to the joke that is Murdoch's tabloid world by now. No serious person takes anything they read in the Post or that they see on Fox News seriously. I had convinced myself that tuning in on occasion, just for a glimpse of the trainwreck, was permissible, seeing, after all, that I am in the business of writing about advertisers and the media they support. 

But like a Chick-fil-A sandwich, I just can't stomach it anymore.

The writer, famous liberal and heroine of mine Fran Lebowitz once admitted to being a regular watcher of Fox News, noting the importance of keeping up with what the other side is saying. "And believe me," Fran said, "it's much worse than you think."

It simply cannot get any lower than Bartiromo's pathetic suck-up moment with Trump, which served to not only destroy whatever was left of her credibility (her move from CNBC to Fox was the first step) but to further poison the minds of gullible Americans who actually believe Trump when he claims the election was stolen from him. 

So, goodbye Page Six. So long, Bartiromo. I don't shop at Hobby Lobby, I don't admire the films of Leni Riefenstahl, and I will no longer consume any media owned by Murdoch — destroyer of democracies and of souls. You'll just have to get your news about his loathsome empire from some other source.