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Mad Men and ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’

With the new season of Mad Men arriving in about a week, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a book that I just finished reading called Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963). Written by David Ogilvy, one of the great ad men of the fifties and sixties, it is essentially a how-to guide for advertising. It discusses how to run an agency, get clients, and create campaigns.

While this might sound like a textbook or something similarly soporific, nothing could be farther from the truth. The book is written in a very personal and opinionated tone, and from the perspective of a man who is extremely smart, successful, and wealthy, and is entirely aware of these things and not afraid to let you know it. So it makes for some extremely interesting, and sometimes hilarious, reading.

This, combined with the vintage nature of the book, makes it fascinating. For example, there is a discussion of how there has only been a small amount of research done into the new medium of television, aside from work done by Dr. Gallup (who Ogilvy worked with). Ogilvy also mentions the merits of hiring young copywriters, since he needs insight into the modern consumer/housewife (who has not even been born during the presidency of FDR).

Below are a few quotes to give you a feel for the book and his style, beginning with the chapter entitled How to Manage an Advertising Agency:

Not long ago the University of Chicago invited me to participate in a seminar on the Creative Organization. Most of the other participants were learned professors of psychology who make it their business to study what they call CREATIVITY. Feeling like a pregnant woman at a convention of obstetricians, I told them what I have learned about the creative process from my experience as the chief of seventy-three writers and artists.

From the chapter How to Illustrate Advertisements and Posters:

As a private person, I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one which was improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard. When I retire from Madison Avenue, I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes who will travel about the world on silent motor bicycles, chopping down posters at the dark of the moon. How many juries will convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship?

From the chapter How to Make Good Campaigns for Food Products, Tourist Destinations, and Proprietary Medicines:

I once found myself conspiring with a British cabinet minister as to how we might persuade Her Majesty’s Treasury to cough up more money for the British travel advertising in America. Said he, “Why does any American in his senses spend his vacation in the cold damp of an English summer when he could equally well bask under Italian skies? I can only suppose that your advertising is the answer.”

Damn right.

The book even ends on a self-reflective chapter entitled Should Advertising Be Abolished? I won’t spoil the ending.

WSJ Looks Back in Time

About once a day, the Wall Street Journal collects a few articles from its archives that are relevant to today’s news and posts them online. For example, interested in the Sotomayor confirmation process? Then you might also be interested in seeing how the Wall Street Journal covered the nomination of Louis Brandeis, back in 1916.

These articles can be found at WSJ In Depth on the right under the section titled Looking Back (and are not behind the paywall).

(thanks to the Numbers Guy for help with finding the WSJ In Depth link)

WSJ Discusses Cankles

From the Wall Street Journal:

Cankle, a portmanteau word combining calf and ankle, refers to “the area in affected female legs where the calf meets the foot in an abrupt, nontapering terminus,” according to Urban Dictionary. A spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association says the word is not a medical term.

Turn Harry Potter into a TV Show

On there is a compellingly argued piece that Harry Potter should have been made (and still can be made) into a TV series, instead of a series of movies (note: for those who have not read the books, there are spoilers in the piece). Here’s an excerpt:

Before the movie, we talked about how much more fun the Harry Potter franchise would be as a TV show, because that means that each season could be dedicated to a book and use anywhere from 12 hours to 17 hours to tell the story of each book.  And some subplots could get their own episodes, like the various love affairs.  This would have the benefit of resolving that storyline while isolating it from the darker happenings, and avoiding groaningly awful situations…

On a TV show, you can have entire episodes that only minimally advance the main plot, but fill in the necessary color and resolve subplots.  There’s so many things that are half-explored that could, on a TV show, get an entire episode or two all to themselves.

Also noted is the following observation:

Movies, even those that run nearly 3 hours long, are more like short stories than novels, and TV shows, with the space for digression and intricate plots twists, are more like novels.  But in a perverse irony, movies and TV shows have the reverse prestige of short stories and novels, and so the temptation is to take higher prestige novels and turn them into movies.  I have no doubt that this was the logic of turning “Harry Potter” into movies instead of TV shows.  TV seemed too cheap for the series, especially back when they were first selling the story to Hollywood.  But in the years since, prestige TV projects like “The Wire” and yes, even “Lost” have changed the equation considerably.  A lot of TV shows are hands-down better than a lot of movies now, especially since the taboo against having intricate plot lines that make it hard to enter the story halfway in have been lifted.  Though you probably wouldn’t have that problem with “Harry Potter”, which makes it even more appealing as a TV series.  Viewers could enter at any time they’d like, and grasp the basic idea that Voldemort was bad and he’s coming back, which would be enough of a hook to get them to stay and piece together the rest.

(via Ideas Special Report)

Kiva Loan Repay Rate vs. Slot Machine Payback Percentages

An intriguing coincidence: The repayment rate of individual loans in Kiva (a broker for individual loans around the world) is 98.50%, which is quite similar to the payback percentage of Las Vegas slot machines.

However, Kiva helps allow you to act as a banker to people throughout the developing world (and more recently, the United States as well). And gambling can be an addictive and destructive behavior. So if you want to have a good time with your money, why not loan it to someone in need instead of pulling a lever and throwing it away?

Norman Mailer’s NYC Mayoral Campaign

John Buffalo Mailer (son of Norman) writes in The American Conservative of the Summer of ’69: Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin’s campaign to liberate NYC. A thought-provoking read, which highlights many of the duo’s offbeat and intriguing campaign ideas, centerpiece of which was to make New York City the 51st state. Here are a few especially interesting excerpts from the piece:

He foresaw the city, its independence secured, splintering into townships and neighborhoods, with their own school systems, police departments, housing programs, and governing philosophies. In some areas, church attendance might be obligatory, in others free love mandatory. “People in New York would begin to discover neighborhoods of the left, the right, and the spectrum of the center which reflected some of their own passions and desires and programs for local government,” he wrote. One way or another, the city would come apart.

My father called for banning private cars in Manhattan, which would have reduced pollution by an estimated three-fifths. The number of cabs would increase, and passengers heading in the same direction could share cabs at a prorated fare. All city bus and subway transportation would be free, a monorail was to be built around the island, and publicly owned bicycles would be made available to all without cost.

Randomness and Joe DiMaggio

Joe DiMaggio and his streak is once again a topic of conversation. First, Radiolab had a discussion with my grad school adviser Steve Strogatz about the streak, in the context of stochasticity. And then, a few days later, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about randomness, and DiMaggio’s streak by Leonard Mlodinow. I guess the summer brings out people’s thoughts on baseball, coupled with probability.

Aspekte Interview about Facebook

I was recently interviewed on aspekte, a German cultural news show, which covers everything from the arts to politics to ideas. They had a segment last week all about Facebook and online social networks, and I was featured. You can watch the segment here. For those of you who do not speak German (like myself), to get it to work, you must first select the type of player, then the broadband, and then click ‘Übernehmen’ to play.

Also, if anyone who reads this does speak German, please feel free to translate the narration in the comments.