insane (adj.) 1. being afflicted by or manifesting unsoundness of mind or an inability to control one’s rational processes
EVERYONE LOVES THE ADVERTISING BUSINESS.
Or thinks they do.
That’s why traditionally there were never enough jobs to fill the demand. The draw was the perceived excitement, the high profile and visibility, the creativity, the glamour, the fun. Many of the things that make the business bad are also what make it attractive. There are so many unexpected happenings and tons of challenges; there is an exciting uncertainty inherent in the constant ups and downs. The world can be different every working day.
And, your mother gets to see what you do for a living by watching television.
But few people realize that the business is often a grind and a difficult one to navigate. There is an essential need to always keep bringing in new business and winning accounts to replace the ones that are leaving. There is the challenge of getting clients to maintain ad-spending commitments. Even before that, there is the task of developing and getting approval for the advertising, particularly if it’s more creative advertising.
It is all a highly complicated and emotional process. And a high percentage of clients make it all the more so. It’s been said that the business would be easy if it didn’t have any clients. Or for that matter any employees. When you take a bird’s-eye view of the entire dofunny occupation, it very often looks and feels like a cuckoo’s nest.
The advertising business is composed of a bunch of people who can be crazy at times. Some are crazy all the time. People you have working for you. People you work for who are your bosses and clients. Delicious but wacky. Rewarding but it can drive you to drink. It’s predictable but uncertain. Most people in it could use some therapy. Some people need it regularly.
Back when I started in the business at 285 Madison Avenue at Young & Rubicam (Y&R), the agency was rumored to have a rate of alcohol addiction that was twice the national average at the time. The business had the potential to drive people to drink, and I was told that the agency had gone to the extent of hiring a full-time person to counsel those individuals that had been identified as problem drinkers. I don’t know if this was true because I never had the pleasure or need to meet this guy.
The Insanity of Advertising provides an authentic inside look at some surprising, often unbelievable situations and events that actually happened in working in advertising. My involvement spanned some 33 years. Some of my experiences are pretty; some pretty ugly.
The people in it are often weird and wacky but wonderful. I believe that a much higher percentage of smart and clever people enter the industry. But while creative people can be exceptionally talented, they can be totally oblivious to the most obvious commonsense things or the world around them. Somehow these afflictions seem to trickle down and across everyone who works at an advertising agency.
Clients can be passionately committed to the need to advertise and yet be totally lacking in understanding anything at all about what makes for great advertising and how it is developed, how to encourage it, and what it looks like even when it is stood up on an easel in front of their noses.
At times the business can be characterized as bananas and demented and deranged and lunatic and unreasonable. And it is often each of these alone and all at once. So many things that happen are beyond controlling or planning for and can be completely unexpected. The nest can be fouled and made even more cuckoo by the most experienced senior executives, or by clients who are entrepreneurs or directors on boards, and even by entire boards of directors.
If there is one thing this book demonstrates for sure, it is that while there is lots of room for accomplishing incredible and significant things in advertising, and for having fun doing it, you are very often caught with inmates on the loose conspiring against you.
It’s Difficult to Anticipate the Unanticipated
A print ad for Gallo’s E&J Brandy was nothing more than a photograph of a nicely lit bottle and an innocuous headline, “E&J Gallo Brandy.”
Some people called Gallo and complained that there was a penis in the bottle. Say what? It happened that the lighting was a bit shadowy on one side of the bottle. Without any hesitation, Gallo ordered that the ad be pulled.
Moreover, there were some at the client who went on to accuse us at the agency of doing this on purpose, believing that the art director conspired with the photographer to shoot the bottle in such a way as to have the offensive image appear subliminally. Why? Simply to embarrass Gallo.
Who are these people that are looking so introspectively into ads? Don’t they have anything else to do than cause serious headaches for advertising agencies? And why do the clients listen to them?
The Inmates Are Prone to Shooting Themselves in Their Feet
Chiat/Day San Francisco was trying to get included in an agency account review conducted by Airborne Express. The Chiat/Day general manager at the time sent a letter, along with some sample print and TV ads, to the VP of corporate marketing at Airborne Express, Ken McCumber.
He in turn sent a letter back, complimenting us on the impact that our package had had upon receipt, and then mentioned that we would never ever have a chance to work on the Airborne Express account.
Oops! We had sent our package via Federal Express.
Just after Chiat/Day purchased and merged with Mojo, an Australian ad agency, we kept up the tradition of sending out clever and arresting holiday cards to clients, employees, and others. That year’s card was a traditional Christmas green and white with a touch of red, and a seasonal message on the front flap.
Here’s the thing. Jingles were greatly frowned on throughout Chiat/Day and I don’t believe the agency had ever used one in an ad.
But the ad agency that we had just purchased for millions and millions of dollars, Mojo, was started and built by two guys, Alan Morris and Allan Johnston, better known as Mo and Jo. Their success was attributed importantly to writing jingles and selling them to their clients. Many of the ads they did, for almost every account they represented, had a jingle. That was one of the main attractions of their agency.
In a stroke of incredible arrogance and insensitivity, you might say “uber-hubris,” the Chiat Christmas card was able to ridicule the hundreds of people in every Mojo office around the world, all of whom were pretty proud of what they did for a living and all of whom had just come to work for Chiat/Day.
Merry Christmas and ho ho ho.
Ad Tales . . . Short Ones!
The New York office of Chiat/Day had just won the American Express Gold Card account and was told absolutely not to say anything public about it yet. Just to make sure, someone from that office sent out an e-mail: “In most emphatic terms, we must not discuss our Amex appointment with anyone outside the agency.”
She sent this “Amex Important” note to everyone in every one of the Chiat/Day/Mojo offices around the world.
Colleagues Are Supposed to Help You, Not Hurt You
Chiat/Day/Mojo San Francisco was working with Doug Tompkins, founder of Esprit, the clothing manufacturer. We had been trying to get a larger assignment and were making progress.
Then Ad Age reported that Chiat/Day/Mojo New York was one of the agencies talking to Calvin Klein about their account. I sent a note off to Jane Newman, who was head of that office.
“Jane, what’s going on? You know we have the Esprit business and are making progress toward gaining even more of it. Calvin is a conflict.”
Her response came back in an e-mail: “Sorry. We aren’t actually pitching . . . just meeting.”
There’s No Business Like Show Business
I was manager of the Los Angeles Y&R office and in search of new business. The movie industry wasn’t a high priority, although being in LA and all, it made sense to try to represent one or two studios. Movie accounts were exciting and glamorous, and it was a kick going to the studios sprinkled around LA and rubbing shoulders and eyeballs with the actors in the commissary.
Columbia Pictures announced that they were reviewing their advertising account. It so happened that the advertising director was named Fred Goldberg. This appeared to me to be an unrivaled opportunity.
And it so happened that Columbia had been running advertising for their blockbuster hit Kramer vs. Kramer and their other feature movies using a similar format for each.
I created a tease campaign with an ad that I ran in a variety of trade magazines, including a full page in Variety magazine, which everyone in Hollywood reads. The all-type ads used the identical typeface and format that the Columbia ads were using for their promotional materials, but I substituted Goldberg vs. Goldberg for Kramer vs. Kramer. Each movie and therefore each of my ads had the typeface they used for each of their movies.
Each ad used the sub-headlines that Columbia was actually using for each of their movies. “A Love Story” was for A Love Story, “Electric!” was for Electric Horseman, “It’s Not Supposed to Happen Twice in Your Life” for Chapter Two, and so on. The double entendre of each of the sub-headlines as it related to the two of us working together was clever and attracted a lot of attention.
“Goldberg vs. Goldberg” A Love Story
“Goldberg vs. Goldberg” Electric!
“Goldberg vs. Goldberg” It’s not supposed to happen twice in your life.
All the ads were run blind without identifying who was sponsoring the ad, so no one at Columbia knew who was running them until I sent a letter presenting Young & Rubicam as a candidate for their account. This was timed to the last ad: Goldberg vs. Goldberg: The Evidence Is In. That was a headline that they used for one of their most current films and which worked really well with my delivering a package to them.
The package contained a strong, well-thought-out and well-crafted letter and samples of our work. The letter ended by suggesting Y&R could offer Columbia something no other ad agency in the world could. Fred Goldberg.
We received a lot of favorable publicity and accolades for the effort when it became known what I did. Army Archerd, the famous Hollywood journalist, wrote about it in his column in Variety. Ad Age and AdWeek carried stories too.
The other Fred Goldberg called me with congratulations. I never got to pitch the account.
Jay Chiat received the following Western Union Telegram on December 18, 1985: “1985 has been a challenging year for Apple in many ways. Needless to say, we have made it equally challenging for Chiat/Day. So, as we end another year of partnership, I’d like to wish you a happy holiday and a prosperous New Year. And although I can’t be here to thank each of you personally for your tireless efforts on Apple’s behalf, I would like to give each of you a gift of a crystal Apple mug that represents a small measure of our appreciation. Merry Christmas.”
The telegram was from John Sculley, president and CEO. The crystal was a nice gesture, and his personal thanks for the “tireless efforts on Apple’s behalf” were even more appreciated.
But not too long after this, Sculley successfully forced Apple’s founder Steve Jobs out of the company he had created and built. Jobs was the guy who had brought him into Apple in the first place, asking him famously if he wanted to continue to sell sweet fizzy drinks at Pepsi-Cola or come to Apple and change the world. Sculley didn’t do much to change the world, although he did change the world of Apple by getting rid of Steve Jobs.
He was determined to get rid of Chiat/Day as the agency for Apple as well. He invited BBDO New York, his previous agency at Pepsi-Cola, to solicit the account.
I helped Jay Chiat craft a letter to send to Sculley, arguing passionately and logically why we should be retained as the Apple agency after having endured a nine-week shoot-out with BBDO.
The day before the final meeting took place, Jay sent a memo to everyone at the agency thanking them for the pitch effort, and he attached what he referred to as the “longest letter I’ve ever sent.” Which was the one I wrote and Jay signed and sent to Sculley.
It didn’t take very long for the next memo from Jay, announcing to everyone that he had received a call from Sculley to “tell me Apple had decided to award its advertising account to BBDO.”
After this, it was decided to run an ad in the San Jose Mercury News, the best vehicle to reach all of Silicon Valley business, including everyone at Apple. “How Chiat/Day lost Apple. Again.”
Some people at Apple decided to respond with their own ad, which somehow found its way into Advertising Age but with some editing of the headline.
There must have been a few folks at Apple, besides Sculley, that didn’t like Chiat/Day. Oh the emotional discomfort we could have saved if Sculley had only sent us a crystal ball instead of that crystal apple mug.
All these things—and so much more—are why the world of advertising is an insane place in which to make a career. The rest of this book is an even more introspective and candid look into some of the most colorful people with whom I have worked over the years, and some of the most colorful things these people did. Or didn’t do, but should have.
Some of these people include Steve Jobs at Apple Computer, Larry Ellison at Oracle, John Chambers at Cisco, Michael Dell at Dell Computer, Les Crane, and John Wayne. And there are others who are less well known but contributed as much to the insanity of the business and also to the incredible rewards that can be found in working in it.
I had a hell of ride in the crazy ad business. These are my true, surprising, and sometimes titillating adventures.
The book is divided into two sections. The first focuses mostly on individual clients and people, traversing my ad world experience from its start in 1967 at Young & Rubicam in New York and ending with the sale of Goldberg Moser O’Neill to Interpublic Group (IPG) and finally the subsequent merger of the agency with Hill Holliday of Boston. This section is titled “The Harebrained, the Happenings, the History.”
The second part has more of a philosophical bent to it. It includes my involvement and learned appreciation for architecture and interior design as it relates to the business; the vagaries of agency mergers; and selling great work, among other topics. This section is titled “The Beliefs, the Observations, the Derangements.”
This book will take you from Madison Avenue to San Francisco by way of Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, with many unbelievable but real true-life occurrences in the business of advertising. There are insights and lessons to be learned about the ad biz along with inside observations and revelations about some well-known people and some not so.
Go ahead and jump in. You’ll find the water is surprising, eye-opening and fun. You may get wet laughing at some things and crying at others. The tears will not be from sorrow but rather stupefaction and bewilderment as to how one industry could spawn such an unfathomable level of ludicrousness, ineptitude, madness, and insanity.