According the Tom Wolff’s book The Right Stuff, the Air Force had some harsh rules about what they called “radio chatter.” The thing was, even if your plane was going down, you were not allowed to jam up the airwaves with a bunch of whiny-ass complaining about “Oh, my plane’s on fire. I’m gonna die!” The rule was, hey, just crash already and don’t whine about it over the radio.

Man, I wish we had that rule here in corporate America.

Here the rule seems to be: “Please publish every single thought that enters your tiny corporate noggin, no matter how incidental or irrelevant to the rest of the universe.”

And the worst of these offenders? The people who hit the “Reply All” button.

Okay, picture this scene. A project leader sends out a reminder that the meeting has moved from Conference Room A to Room B. Okay, fine. It’s an acceptable use of mass email containing useful information. What’s not acceptable? The microcephalic response of “Thanks!” and sent to Reply-All.


I remember reading once that agency-wide emails are frowned upon at Ogilvy. It makes sense, given the sheer size of the organization. When you multiply the amount of time it takes one employee to read a stupid “Thanks!” email by the 80-some-thousand employees in the company, dude, it adds up to some serious revenue-gobbling time.

Even more deflating is when my email server is slow. Now it’s adding-insult-to-injury time because first I have to hit OPEN (not knowing it’s one of these stupid emails) and then …. wait …. wait for it ….. and all the waiting is foooorrrrr? …. a cheerful stupid “Thanks.”

Okay, here’s the deal. No more thanking me. Well, okay, if I give you CPR and save your life, yeah, a “Thanks!” would be fine. Or even just a quiet thumbs-up sign as they wheel your gurney into the waiting ambulance. But I really and truly don’t need to be thanked for telling you the meeting is now in Conference Room B.

It was nuthin’. Really.

Recently an ad student at well-known art and design school came up to me and said, “I just had some of my work produced for a real client at a national agency.” Here’s why this is a disturbing story.

The kid had done this work, and a lot of other work, for this agency as an unpaid intern. To add insult to injury, this kid’s TV spot was one of only two chosen, the other created by one of the agency’s writers, a paid staffer.

This student is not alone in his servitude. A recent article about the intern issue in the New York Times said “experts estimate … one-fourth to one-half [of all interns] are unpaid.” (Note: Internships at my agency, GSD&M, are paid. Tons? No. Paid? Yes.)

Peeeeople. Okay, I know we got two wars goin’ on and an earth to worry about, but isn’t this one of those things we can just fix – boom – like that? So, to agency people reading this I encourage you to e-mail this cranky little essay to the higher-ups in your agency with the appended note, “Man, I hope WE aren’t hiring any unpaid interns.”

Ooops, before you send that note, let’s rethink using the word “hiring.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “payment for the temporary use of something.” Agreed, these guilty agencies are in fact “temporarily using” interns but without that “payment” part, it ain’t “hiring,” folks. So until an agency can cough up a little money – I’m talkin’ even Taco-Bell money here – tell ‘em using word hire is flatly incorrect. Try “captured” instead. Or “tricked.” Or, my preference, “hosed.”

If we can agree on hosed, yay, we’ve made some progress. Now at least we’re being honest. Now the Adweek columnists can write, “Martini Yesman & Longlunch announce the hosing of three new unpaid interns.”

I can hear the blowback coming even now.

“Luke, you don’t understand. Our unpaid interns receive valuable on-the-job training.”

Oh, bite me. If you really believe that, how about you and me, we’ll go out to the street right now, flag down a cab, and see if he’ll take us to the airport in exchange for some valuable on-the-job training.

The New York Times article went on to say there are “six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers, and that the employer ‘derives no immediate advantage’ from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.”

So how did we move from providing “benevolent contribution” to hosing interns? The usual villains are in play here or course, profit being the main one.

VCU Brandcenter President, Rick Boyko, wrote “over the years, cost cutting at agencies has made … training programs disappear. This has forced aspiring creatives to look elsewhere for their education. [So] portfolio schools and graduate programs began to do what the agencies used to – teach young people the business and help develop their craft. The cost of this education was absorbed by the creative student who hoped, in turn, of getting a better-paying job.”

But that ain’t happenin’. In fact, as the Times notes, the number of unpaid internships is mushrooming. Somehow the agencies hosing all these unpaid interns are able to look their victims in the eye, deny them wages, deny them health coverage, take their work and still say the interns got the better part of the deal.

Shame on you.

Shame’s one thing; the law’s the other. As Nancy J. Leppink of the Department of Labor warns, “there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”

Okay, done with this essay.  Time to have “Higgs,” my intern, get some valuable on-the-job training by spell-checking  and posting this thing.

That's my intern, "Higgs", second from left.

New Product Idea #7b

Are you just fed up with Monarchs or Swallowtails? Tired of  their “fluttering” all up in your grill? Just get the new ButterFlySwatter. Then just wait — real nice ‘n quiet — while one of ’em is “settling down” on a flower, and then….WHAM.

If one more person tells me they want something to “go viral” I think I shall retire to my chambers and weep softly until dusk.

“Go viral”? Please.

Take the Beatles. The Beatles didn’t hold a meeting in the 3rd floor conference room and decide, “Okay, we’re going to ‘go famous.’  Ideas, people?”

No. They became famous by roasting our minds with rock and roll. The mind-roasting came first, the famous next.

So, can we please retire the word viral? And perhaps, even temporarily, use that old stand-by term “earned media”? It may not be as poetic but it hits closer to the truth. It describes how a good idea earns its coverage by being cool enough that people actually talk about it and pass it on to friends.

This is basically the idea behind a notion (attributed to Crispin), that goes like this: “What is the press release of your idea?”

What a marvelous way to think about advertising. Don’t show me the TV spot. In fact, don’t show me any advertising ideas. Show me an idea worth advertising. An idea worth advertising. Such a key difference.

What is the press release of your idea?

Show me an idea that – on paper – is interesting. Show me an idea that is so fun, so unusual, so….so somethin’, that the idea is in and of itself worth tellin’ to a journalist.

Now that…. that is the way to get to some stuff that’ll “go viral.”


A few additional observations on “viral videos”, if you please.

The word “viral” comes with some baggage, probably from its use in describing popular YouTube videos.

Here the word actually makes some sense, describing as it does the ex post facto popularity of a given video. What makes something popular is a subject that’s always intrigued me, so I recently studied several sites that rank the view-counts of popular online videos. The results were not encouraging.

Those of you who’ve seen the movie Idiocracy can probably guess where I’m going here. In the stupid future envisioned in this movie, the world’s most popular TV show was called “Ow! My Balls!” – a user-generated reality show full of accident videos, not unlike the worst of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Well, a quick study of the view-counts revealed that if you want viewers, show animals. Show otters holding hands, show sleepwalking dogs, piano-playing cats, and prairie dogs givin’ the evil eye. Hot on the heels of cute animals is cute babies: talking babies, Charlie bit my finger babies, and laughing babies.


Perhaps that ancient advertising maxim, the one about how effective ads need babies or puppies … perhaps it’s true? They sure get the most clicks. If it is indeed true, again I find myself getting weepy.

Also depressing was the popularity of videos featuring people misbehaving, getting hurt, or doing something embarrassing that we can all have a good laugh at. People having bike accidents, the swearing Winnebago salesman, the Star Wars fightin’ kid, the angry German kid screaming at his computer, the bad sportscaster (Boom-goes-the-dynamite), the mentally challenged Miss Teen South Carolina, and of course Christian Bale and Bill O’Rielly screaming at people off-camera.

These were the videos with some of the very highest view-rates. The world of Idiocracy? It’s here. Such were my thoughts as I inched along the ledge outside my office window looking at the street below.

Eventually, however, I crawled back in my window. There were enough encouraging signs to buoy my spirits. Like the popularity of President Obama’s YouTube message. Or Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. Or Christian the lion meeting his old friends again. These too were some of the most viewed videos.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. All of life is a bell curve, isn’t it? For every  America’s Funniest Home Videos on television, there’s a Breaking Bad. Okay, maybe it’s not 50-50, but I just need to remind myself, “Walk towards the light. Walk towards the light.”

There are certain brands that it is just a thrill to work on. And often, they’re brand names you don’t have to explain to your mom.

“Hey, Mom. Yeah, we just won the ComGlom-Aero7 account. … What? … Oh, they make these engine parts that go inside of, well, not the inside  but …, ummmm, they’re that one part of a power generator that…. You what? You gotta go? … Okay.”

So today our agency was awarded the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company account. Yeah, just the kind of brand I’m talkin’ about. My Mom knows who Goodyear is. Been around since 1898 (Goodyear, not Mom), makin’ kick-ass tires. And they have a blimp, to boot. How many clients have a blimp? How many clients would even think, “Hey, you know what we need? A blimp.” Ya gotta love the blimp.

I even like saying the word. “Blimp.”

In addition to being a venerable name, Goodyear makes great stuff. Their tires are on more school buses, more police cars, fire trucks, even the stinkin’ Lunar Rover. At the end of the day, an agency can’t do great work if it isn’t a great product. Fact is, I’m lucky to be able to work on lots of brands that make cool stuff, things that don’t suck, and actually deliver on the brand promise.

As I write this, I’m wearing an L.L.Bean shirt. It’s perfect. It’s well-made. It’s gonna last forever. And if I decided I didn’t like it, even if I made up some stupid reason (“Dear L.L.Bean, your shirt does not provide cable service”), this company would take it back and refund me; which is why they’re always winning best service awards every year.

Norwegian Cruise Line? Do you know how cool it is to write for a product you can see in the harbor from five miles away and one mile up as your plane’s landing in Miami? Plus it’s fun to debunk old myths about how cruising is for shuffle-board-playin’ Viagra addicts from Fort Wayne. You step onto one of their ships – like Norwegian Jewel – you are gone dude. You are off the grid. It’s like bein’ in a 4-star hotel where they change the scenery off your balcony every morning.

These are just a few of the brands I’ve had the pleasure of working on in my years at GSD&M, an agency with a roster full of equally way-cool brands.
So it’s a good day to remind myself what a great job I have. And so do you, if you work in advertising.

When the day gets long and you think your job kinda sucks, remind yourself that the Newtonian definition of work is “moving weight over a distance” and that we don’t have to do any heavy lifting in advertising. We don’t have to wear orange vests on the side of the highway. We don’t have to email Bev in Receivables asking her for the 10th goddamn time to send more copies of Form WCC-240, “the one with the tracking numbers in RED, Bev, RED.” We don’t have to say to every customer that, for a quarter more, they can have the big popcorn.

(Am I getting elitist again? I look forward to reviewing all of your complaints on my customer feedback site: biteme.com.)

Man, I love this business.

Full disclosure up front. What follows is four paragraphs about some Southwest Airlines work. I don’t work on that account and this isn’t my personal work, but we did it here at GSD&M and I think it’s pretty cool.

I love that description. A brand is a promise paid off in the store.

That’s what we do in advertising. Make promises. Over the years I’ve made some promises I couldn’t keep, with ads or commercials that over-promised. “This is the BEST Product you will EVER have, EVER!” Partly I did it because at the time I thought, well  that’s what we do here, right? Over the years, of course, you learn  we’re not in the business of exaggerating but of telling the truth in such a compelling way that people notice.

Which is why I feel great about the agency’s recent work for Southwest Airlines. Here’s a brand that went against Wall Street’s advice and decided not to charge for bags. Everyone else did, they were told. Southwest risked leaving about $350 million on the table, money they coulda had just by charging. But they didn’t. They stayed true to their stated purpose: “Giving People The Freedom to Fly.” And if you’re a family of 4, payin’ an extra $100 in bag fees, dude, that ain’t free. So we did that “Bags Fly Free” campaign. Well, they did the right thing. That money they left on the table almost tripled in new sales from people tired of airlines nickle-and-diming.

Aaaaanyway, here’s where I’m goin’ with it. A brand is a promise paid off in the store. So it’s Valentine’s Day, I’m walkin’ through some airport, I forget where, and I see this signage at one of Southwest’s counters, just some silly stuff done by the employees where they’re givin’ away heart-shaped lollipops. And that nice competitive line above it. I just think it’s cool when brands really embrace who they are and have fun with it. Good for them. I’m diggin’ it.

How I Use Twitter.

If we were to meet at a party, the first thing you would notice is that I am not there, because I never go to parties. I am an introvert and I never “do things.”

I also take great pains to avoid ever having to “chat.” I find small talk makes me uncomfortable. In fact, given the choice, I would prefer to have Pop Rocks placed under my eyelids and my eyelids sewn shut with barbed wire and catgut.

That said, I don’t “chat” much online either. However, I am not a complete misanthrope. I like to know what my friends are doing; what interests them. So, what chatting I do take part in, I do on Facebook. But actual chatting is live and interactive, so what I do on Facebook doesn’t qualify as chatting either. It’s more like listening to humanity through the walls. In fact, I feel guilty when someone sees that I am live on Facebook and sends me a text: “Hey, how ya doin’?”

The thing is, I don’t want interactivity. Which is why Facebook is perfect for introverts who actually like the human race. It is as if I can watch my beloved species from a high window; I can see what they are doing but bear no actual risk of interaction. I’m pretty sure this isn’t why most people like Facebook, but it’s where I net out.

Twitter, on the other hand, I use for learning. I hear many people dismiss Twitter by saying, “I don’t give a tin shit that u r having coffee @ Starbux.” With that part, I agree. But the thing is, I don’t follow people who post pabulum like that. I follow people who are out there pushing great content. I follow people who post links to great articles, cool videos, websites, SlideShare presentations. Then, when I log on to my Tweetdeck, it’s kinda like I am scrolling through a Table of Contents to a great magazine, one that’s being published every minute. When someone follows me, I always follow back. But to keep my list interesting and “@ Starbux free”, I go through my list every other day or so and unfollow anyone who posts useless stuff.

Yes, I know Breaking Bad is good but I could I puh-lease have the half-second of my life back that you stole by posting such useless crap? Thanks.