Adventures In Creativity Part II

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Eliot Janeway

Eliot “Calamity” Janeway. The Doomsday economist. When I got to FCB, he was the “face” of Mazda commercials. Janeway had been an economic advisor to a number of U.S. presidents, going as far back as FDR. His theme was always to save for a rainy day, to survive a credit crunch or depression. In one Mazda spot, he sternly told the viewer to have at least “six months salary put away in safe investments.” Of course, we convinced him to say that buying a Mazda was a good investment. As with many spokespeople, however, the well runs dry. Mazda was preparing to launch the RX-7, a sports car using the rotary engine. Its introduction was expected to make Mazda a player again in this country. We were tasked with coming up with a series of RX-7 launch spots that could “cut through the clutter.” Back then that was a lot easier as TV stations and the networks still honored the 10 minute separation rule, which meant that no competing car commercial could run within 10 minutes of yours.

An up-and-coming young copy writer named Steve Hayden was brought in to develop some TV ideas. I should point out at this time that there was a very popular TV show, based on a movie of the same name, called “The Paper Chase.” It starred the great actor JohnPaper Chase Houseman as the imperious and terrifying law instructor, Professor Charles Kingsfield. His line delivery was unique, given more gravitas with his English accent. We gathered, without the Mazda client, to hear what the concepts were. The different teams presented their ideas. When it was Steve’s turn, he began by telling us that his spot would feature Houseman reprising his Professor Kingsfield role for the Mazda RX-7. I loved the casting against type. Steve began. “The spot opens with John standing behind a podium in a lecture hall. He begins by intoning, ‘The new Mazda RX-7…it will not make ugly men handsome (scenes of the car performing on winding roads, then back to John) it will not make timid women brave (cut to more impressive performance footage then back to John again) but with its new rotary engine it will go 120 miles-per-hour. But………that’s illeeeeegal!'” I thought it was great! So did the rest of us. Unfortunately, the client didn’t, saying that Houseman didn’t convey the “youthful image” of the car.” We were crestfallen, as was Steve Hayden who left the agency shortly later.  I wonder what ever happened to him? Quite coincidentally, a few months later Smith Barney broke this campaign, which was to become iconic.

This might be a good time to discuss something I’ve seen happen in the auto ad biz over the years…Great ideas never really go away, they just get recycled. It happens in other categories too. Greater minds than mine have also noticed this phenomenon. I’m not accusing anyone of plagiarizing, or retooling someone else’s work. Sometimes a good idea is sold to a client without anyone realizing how close it comes to something that has come before. I offer several examples for your review.

TOYOTA TUNDRA PULLS A SPACE SHUTTLE

This spot very effectively shows off the Tundra’s towing ability by lugging the space shuttle toyota-tundra-pulling-shuttle-fullEndeavor for a quarter-mile stretch of its journey of 12 miles from LAX to the California Science Center. It was quite a show of towing ability, made more so by the fact that it was pulling an American icon. Another American icon is the Boing 747. 221106-c-vwIn 2006, VW used a Touareg to pull a 747 down a runway. But both of them were beaten by a Chevy pickup truck that towed a 300,000 pound 747 down a runway in 1972. It went so well that the Dallas airport police were going to cite Chevy for pulling the plane faster than airport regulations. The moral here: To show how much you can tow, go out and find something really big and tow it.

FORD….GO FURTHER

Ford launched this new theme line last year. It was created to urge shoppers to check out Ford products, as well as to maximize their potentials. Matt Van Dyke, Ford’s Director of Global Communications said, “What we aim to do is inspire behavior. “Go Ford FurtherFurther” is more than an advertising tagline. We want to institutionalize it as part of our culture.” In a video put out by their Investor Relations people, Ford says,”Ford goes further to build great, environmentally sound products, a strong global business and a better, more humane world.” Admirable! Also admirable was the Isuzu advertising that broke in 1997, urging people to Go Farther. It became the ad slogan and company motto. As the 20th Century drew to a VX_00_Fullline_brochure_frontclose, Isuzu was urging millions to Go Farther. My friend Jean Halliday, in her Auto Adopolis Blog, points out the subtle difference between Go Further and Go Farther. The letter “A.” Just kidding. She really didn’t say that. The use of Further connotes more of a metaphorical distance. I was lucky enough to be the Director of Advertising Communications at Isuzu during many of the Go Farther years. We wanted people to Go Farther in everything they did.  The Army had used the “Be All You Can Be” line already. In Go Further, Ford wants people to, well, I guess Go Further. Isuzu wanted them to Go Farther.

ACURA – MADE FOR MANKIND

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 9.31.58 AMWell, Made for Mankind if you are what Acura calls a “doer,” like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Google’s Sergey Brin…who are both Acura owners. They are made for a mankind that can afford $50,000 automobiles. An Acura executive described the campaign saying, “Our hope is we can take a human focus and put that into our advertising so we can push the world forward (further?). “Doers” are wealthy, but non-ostentatious,NissanHumanRace people who want to make a difference in the world via their work.” While Acura products are now “Made for Mankind,” 26 years ago Nissan declared that their products were “Built For The Human Race.” Nissan’s claim may ring a little truer as they offered everything from econo-boxes,, to iconic sports cars, to off-road trucks. At least the advertisers who develop very similar campaigns have the decency to wait until the other one has run its course. Please don’t think that I’m throwing stones…I can’t even afford a glass house. And, after all, I was the Account Man who was working on Chevy Nova when we launched our TV spot showing it tooling around Germany the same week as Ford launched a Granada spot using the same idea. For more on that fiasco, see my 9/21/2013 post “Adventures in Creativity.”

RX7But I digress. We had been tasked to come up with something that could “break through the clutter” for the RX-7 launch.  We finally all agreed on a direction. With only a little sense of hubris, we felt that the new RX-7 was the latest incarnation of what a classical sports car should be.  The heir to the legacy of such cars as the MG-TC, the Corvette, and the Datsun Z Car. We launched with a print ad which used an overprint of silver ink. “The car that you’ve been waiting for is waiting for you.” The car-buying public would go crazy knowing that we had the car that they’d been waiting for. They would be driven into paroxysms of ecstasy when they saw the companion launch TV spot. To add to the excitement of the spot, we told the viewer that it was actually filmed at a real raceway.

The launch was a huge success. Several people at FCB were given RX-7s as company cars. Except me. I inherited a navy blue Mazda Cosmo. No. It wasn’t named after Cosmo Topper, or Cosmo Kramer. It was one of those strange naming things that will be discussed in an upcoming post. But, it was bigger than my GLC, and drove like a rocket. All I knew was that I had moved up a notch in the free car sweepstakes.

Next: I Learn About International Trade

 

How Can You Eat That? We Don’t Even Like That In Japan!

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Mazda Factory

Mikiro “Miki” Sato.  He was the “factory guy” working in the Compton offices of Mazda Motors of America – Central. His employer was Toyo Kogyo, and he held the title of “Assistant to the President.” The president in this case was Toru “Tim” Ogawa who ran MMA- C. The Assistant to the President job is very different from our notion. He doesn’t make appointments for the president, make his lunch dates, does not pick him up at the airport, or buy his gifts for him.  In short, he is not a bag smasher. The Assistant to the President is a very key position. He is the eyes and ears to management. His job is to discretely make sure management initiatives are implemented. He made sure that everything was running smoothly here, and each night sent a parcel to Hiroshima giving them updates. Something like a master sergeant. Miki and I became very close friends and he taught me more about the universality of the human race than anyone ever had.

Toyo Kogyo took up most of the shoreline on Hiroshima Bay. They were to the city as Ford was to Dearborn. Small boys grew up hoping to land a job with Toyo Kogyo. Particularly galling to Mazda was their position and awareness in the U.S. market. In Japan, and around the world, they were a major player. In the U.S., they trailed pipsqueaks like Datsun and Honda. About a week after I started, Tim Ogawa and the rest of Mazda executive management came to the agency for a meeting. Mazda’s American management was mostly made up of former Chrysler folks. As the meeting started, I sad-businessmandidn’t notice the look of apprehension on the faces of our people. Mr. Ogawa got right to the point. “There is a cancer destroying Mazda in this country. And, with any cancer, it must be cut out. He looked at his people, “It might be our management.” He looked at us, “It might be the ad agency.” He looked at the floor, “It might be our products. Whatever it is, we must find it and cut it out.” Hhmmmm.  I wonder if we could get our house in Detroit back? Fortunately, we found out that the agency wasn’t the carcinogen.

Miki Sato became one of my primary client contacts.  We also became good friends. He told me that the Japanese Mazda executives were required to attend school on Saturdays to improve their English skills. A weekly assignment was to bring in a newspaper editorial and be prepared to discuss it. The rationale here was that editorials wouldn’t contain grammatical errors, but would still be written to be understood by the average American. Driven by his example, and by a desire to broaden my horizons, I enrolled inkanjifirst Japanese language and culture classes. I soon discovered how lucky English speakers are.  We only have one alphabet, and that only has 26 letters. Japanese uses four major “alphabets.” There are kanji…over 2300 pictograms derived from Chinese. First graders have to memorize 80 characters. Miki told me that by the time he’d reached 6th grade, he had to know more than 900 of them. There are also the hiragana and katakana alphabets, developed to augment kanji and to accommodate Western terms, places, and phrases. Each of these has 48 characters. Then there is romajithe Western alphabet used to write out words for Westerners. THANK YOU becomes 有り難う in kanji,  ありがとうin hiragana, nothing in katakana, and arigato in romaji. My Japanese instructor also told me about “honorifics,” and when to use them in public, the voice to use to my children and wife, and the voice to use when addressing my parents. I also learned about the Japanese concepts of tatemae and honne. Tatemae means the public facade we present, what is normal, polite, and expected. Honne is the reality behind tatemae…true intention.  They Pieare very subtle concepts. My teacher explained it this way. “Tom, you’re eating dinner at Thanksgiving. You’re still hungry, when the host offers you the last piece of pumpkin pie. Even though you are still hungry, you don’t want to appear greedy, so you decline.  That’s tatemae. But inside, you’d kill for that last piece. That’s honne.”

Miki and I both loved to eat. Surprise!! I told him that we’d eat our way around the world. We started with a lunch at El Chavo for Mexican. The next lunch was Chinese. Then Korean. We did German. French. Then we went to a great sushi bar in Gardena. I wanted to show him my love of all things sushi, and how well my Japanese was coming. I pointed at something in the sushi bar and said, what came out as, “Corey wahh nan desooka?” Miki looked at me.  “What?” I repeated myself. “Tom,” he said, “what are you trying to say?” I told him. “What is this?” He smiled. “Oh. Well you were kind of close.”  That was tatemae. Honne would have been “You suck.” I decided to impress him with my sushi skills. We started ordering more exotic things.  All delicious. I asked Miki to order something “special” for me. He natto 1did, and the sushi chef rolled his eyes and nodded. A minute later a bowl of natto with a raw egg on it arrived. “What is natto?” I asked. Miki said, “Soybeans. Make sure you mix the egg into it.” Yummmm. The gooey stringiness of it should have been a red flag. It smelled like a bad cheese and had the consistency of Elmer’s Glue. I gagged on it as it coated my tongue, gums, teeth, uvula, and larynx. It didn’t help when Miki told me how natto was made. Basically, you soak soybeans in water for 24 hours, and then layer them between sheets of rice straw and leave them in the sun until they rot. He asked me how I liked my natto. “Not bad,” I lied.  That was tatemae. He said, “My mother always made me eat that for breakfast. I hated it.  How can you eat that? We don’t even like that in Japan!” That…was honne.

Our honne relationship grew over the next few months. He was worried about his daughters. They were becoming very Americanized.  This would not help them when the family moved back to Hiroshima. Miki had to hire tutors to keep his girls’ Japanese language skills current with girls their ages. He knew that his promotion back to Toyo Kogyo would take a toll on his family. They had lived in Southern California for almost six years. His daughters had been three and five when they arrived. They had already told their father that they didn’t want to move back. Miki got the news that he was being transferred back in December of 1978. He was leaving shortly after January 1. My wife and I had our first child on December 20, 1978. A baby boy. Miki congratulated me on his birth. We went to lunch one last time. As  he was leaving our offices, he turned and vigorously shook my hand, protocol prohibiting a hug. We didn’t speak. As he left, he looked back and said, “Tom, I have something for you. I left it with Mary, my secretary.” I said my thanks and said I would pick it up. Several days later, I went to Miki’s now empty office. Mary handed me a crumpled brown shopping bag. In it was a present wrapped in expensive whiteKoi paper, tied up with a white satin ribbon. That evening, my wife and I opened it. We noticed that the paper was worn and the ribbon a little frayed. Inside was a beautiful silk carp kite. “What a nice gift,” we thought. A few weeks later, in my Japanese class, I mentioned the gift to my sensei. I told her about the wrapping. She asked the color.  “White.” She asked if the present seemed “old.” I said yes. Her face saddened. She asked, “He gave this to you for the birth of your son?” Again, I said yes. She said, “And your friend Miki has no sons? Do you know the meaning of what he has given you?” Uh-oh. She explained to me that a traditional wedding gift for a young couple is a carp kite, wrapped in white and presented by the bride’s parents as a good luck gesture.  It is only to be opened upon the birth of their first son, and then flown over the house on May 5th of each year…Boy’s Day (now Children’s Day). It tells everyone that you have a son. Miki and his wife had given us this incredible gift, knowing that they would never be able to use the carp kite. How selfless!!! That night, I wrote Miki a letter. “Sato-san – my wife and I wish to thank you for your wonderful gift upon the birth of our son. We want you to know that your Koinobori no Sato will fly proudly above our house this coming Tango no Sekku.” And it did.  And that’s honne!

Next: Fast Times At FCB High

These Guys Are A Lot Different From GM!

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teaHippie

I landed at LAX at 3:30 PM, and it already felt different. This was to be my new home. There was no thought that someone would walk into my office and tell me that I was being transferred back to Detroit. I was filled with giddy anticipation, looking forward to working with new people, new clientsTown House  new cultures, and…a new FREE CAR! Even though it was a bottom-of-the food-chain Mazda GLC (the Great Little Car), it was free. FCB/H put me up at the Sheraton Town House Hotel. A beautiful, faded-glory hotel situated next to Lafayette Park, on Wilshire Blvd. The Town House was declared a historical landmark in 1993, and is now a low-income apartment building. Upon checking in, I received a note from FCB/H, welcoming me to LA. Classy! Having no idea where to grab a bite to eat, I ordered room service, kicked off my shoes and turned on KABC News and Jerry Dunphy. At this time, FCB was located at 2727 West 6th Street…right across Lafayette Park from the Sheraton Town House.  It is now the home of South Baylo University (not to be confused with the school in Waco, TX) a school teaching acupuncture. It was maybe two hundred yards away.  A simple walk, or so I thought. I would discover that getting across the park was a little more challenging than driving down Woodward Ave.

Dawn dawned. I was showered, shaved, and English Leathered. It was 8:45 AM when I strode out the door and into the park. I had to diagonally traverse the park to get to the front door of FCB. As I left the safety of the sidewalk, I immediately encountered three young men sitting on a picnic table, smiling at me.  Being a good son of Michigan, I smiled back. The largest of the three got up and approached me.  A lot of non-verbal cues told me that he was not part of the agency welcoming committee. He slowly opened his left hand to show me several one inch by one inch plastic packages that seemed to contain some kind of white powder. Sensing that it might not be Bromo-Seltzer, I quickly moved on. A few yards later I heard some shouting that seemed to be getting closer. A woman was screaming at a man who was carrying a purse while he ran away from her. Maybe he’d dropped his wallet.

Lafayette

I quickened my pace.  I could see the safety of the 6th Street sidewalk just steps away. I turned quickly and headed down the sidewalk for the crossing signal. An elderly lady approached me from the other direction. She stopped directly in front of me, screaming “You can go to Hell, Lewis!” She then moved her legs apart, bent her knees slightly, and relieved herself on the sidewalk and my new Thom McAns. She was definitely NOT from any welcoming committee.  I crossed the street and made my way toward the FCB front doors. There is a long hedge in front of the building. While passing it, I Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 12.07.16 AMheard a noise come from the bushes. I stopped, stupidly, to inspect it.  From within the bush came a voice, “Sir, keep moving. You’re interfering with an LAPD drug action.” Suddenly, his radio crackled…”It’s going down. Go! Go! Go!” The hedge gave birth to an LAPD undercover officer dressed as a homeless person. He raced across the street as other undercover officers emerged from trees, dumpsters, and out of cars. As they ran into the park, I could see that they were chasing the three young gentlemen selling Bromo-Seltzer. I’m going to love working here!

I entered the lobby and introduced myself. Denny Remsing came out, greeted me, and took me to my office…which had a glorious view of Lafayette Park. I told him about my park adventure. He said, “Stick to the sidewalks.” He then began to explain the Byzantine organization of our Mazda client. In the beginning, there was Toyo Kogyo of Hiroshima. They started out as a rock drill company at the start of the 20th Century, but began manufacturing motor vehicles. Toyo Kogyo came to North America riding on the success of rotary powered cars. In the U.S., they established three importing/distribution companies. One in Jacksonville, FL. One in Chicago. And one in Compton, CA. When the first gas crisis hit, the not so fuel efficient rotary engine cars suffered.  Toyo Kogyo was going broke. They sold the Jacksonville importing company to the C. Itoh Trading Company.  Toyo Kogyo’s bank, Sumitomo, took over Chicago. Toyo Kogyo held onto Compton. There was a slight gordian_knotproblem. C. Itoh and Sumitomo were major competitors. They had different ideas on how to package, price, and market Mazda vehicles. To compound the issue, Toyo Kogyo had to shut down their Compton operation, with Sumitomo taking it over, and moving the executives to Southern California from Chicago.  In the U.S. , Mazda was now really two companies: Mazda Motors of America – Central (Sumitomo decided not to change the name of the company when it moved to the West Coast); and Mazda Motors of America – East headquartered in Jacksonville and owned by C. Itoh. Toyo Kogyo still made the cars, but sold them to Sumitomo and C. Itoh to market in this country. MMA – C covered two-thirds of the country, MMA – E the East and South. 

Denny asked, “Are you still following me?” I lied and nodded my head. He continued on to explain that the two importers had different base prices and option packages. This pretty much eliminated any network television ads featuring price. Also, Toyo Kogyo, Sumitomo, and C. Itoh all contributed to the ad budget, requiring three separate sets of budgets. Ads had to be approved by representatives of each company, requiring frequent trips to the dank heat and humidity capitol of America, Jacksonville, FL.  I was also informed that I would be in charge of providing budget information to the clients. Yippee!!

Denny then asked me a question that would change my life. “It’s almost noon.  Do you like Mexican food?”

Next: Pink Margaritas in Beer Flutes

Catastrophes That Weren’t My Fault

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asteroid_earth_impact

Before I draw the curtain on my idyllic days in Detroit, I wanted to set the record straight.  There were some catastrophes that occurred that weren’t my fault. I’m not trying to deflect blame, but rather point out the fact that I was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Multi-billion dollar corporations always make mistakes, but because of their size, the mistakes tend to be huge. They continue, however, to make billions of dollars. Here are a few examples of “too big to fail.”

Asleep At The Switch

GM had a division called GM Photographic. GM ad agencies were instructed to give all of their photostat work to this group. Additionally, they were automatically given the printing jobs for all Chevrolet car brochures, much to the dismay of local Detroit-area printers. And so it was when CampbellReader's Digest-Ewald and Chevy decided to do a pre-printed full-line insert to appear in Reader’s Digest. The “Digest” had a huge circulation, larger than many major national magazines combined. And, even though the page size was very small, the magazine was able to sell itself as an efficient way to reach millions of readers. With this in mind, the agency created a 12-page insert to be bound into an upcoming issue of the magazine. Because of the size of the run, 9 million copies, GM Photographic was automatically award the printing job.  They were to print, collate, and bind 9 million inserts and ship them in time to appear in the next available issue of Reader’s Digest. The printing plates were produced and delivered to the GM Photographic presses. Soon, 9 million Americans would see”What’s New Today In A Chevrolet.”

The press proof check went well. The insert looked wonderful.  The order was given to throw the switch. The green “On” button was pressed, and the gigantic web litho machines came to life. On to the next project. Several days later, it takes a long time to print 9 million of anything, the agency received a call from the shipper scheduled to send dozens of shipping pallets to Reader’s Digest. “Uh,” the shipper said, “you might want to come and take a look at your insert.”  The agency’s head of print production sped over. What he saw made his blood run cold.  The shipper handed him a finished insert. The color was out of register. During four-color printing, the different color plates have to line up perfectly.  If not, the text and photos look like something from a 3-D comic book. OurRegistration_Misalignment production manager called the Account Man (not me) and the client. When they arrived, they opened the rest of the bundle on the pallet. All of them were out of register! The GM Photographic rep was called over. He tried to explain that this was very definitely an isolated thing and challenged the Chevy client to randomly pick any bundle on the dozens of pallets to see that they had been printed correctly. The client did. He picked hundreds of bundles, several from each pallet. They were all wrong! I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure there was a lot of screaming and shouting, as well as some sobbing. On a press run this large, someone is supposed to monitor the printing every so often to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen. Nobody did.  In fact, we later found out that the man running the press had…wait for it…wait for it…fallen asleep at the switch.  GM Photographic was forced to reprint all 9 million at their expense. I think the executions took place in the basement of the GM Building.

Those Pesky Typos

When you have a huge ad budget, you can buy lots of media, requiring lots of advertising. In 1976, Chevy’s ad budget was in excess of $100 million, the largest single ad account in the country. I came up with, what I thought, was a brilliant idea. The U.S. population that year was 218 million. Approximately 20 million were, what could we could call, new car purchase intenders. Why not take the $100 million ad budget and give it to a research company to visit each of these people for ten minutes and tell them how great Chevy was? If only one in ten did, that meant that 2 million people would buy a Chevy. I took the idea to Doug Allison, the head of Campbell-Ewald’s Research Department. He was so disheartened by the idiocy of my idea that he and Herb Fisher, the head of our Multi-Products Group, left the agency and started a little research company called Allison-Fisher. Oh well, maybe it wasn’t a good time to stop advertising, what with everyone wrapping themselves in American glory for the Bi-SpiritCentennial. Chevy was no exception. For ’76, Chevy had a theme “The Spirit of America.” They came out with special Spirit of America models; white cars with red and blue pinstripes. We used our huge ad budget to wrap ourselves in red, white, and blue. With that much media, a lot of ads had to be prepared. Sometimes they were put together too quickly. If you are going to represent the Spirit of America, it would behoove one to check for typos. A lot of people may see your mistake.

Building Roulette

Clients. naturally, like to have their ad agency close to them. They can summon a quivering Account Man at a moment’s notice, and they don’t have to travel very far to visit the agency. Thus it was for Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald.  Chevy was on the 2nd floor of the GM Building, Campbell-Ewald on the 4th. The agency was never more than five minutes away. In the early 1970’s, the agency was informed that Chevrolet was moving to the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. The agency was informed that they would be expected to relocate also. At that time, the largest office facilities in the area were a large Little Caesar’s, a Towne Club pop retail store (soda for non-Midwesterners), and Bob Thibodeau Ford. The decision was made to buy property on Van Dyke in Warren, across from CeCo Warrenthe GM Tech Center. Plans were drawn up. Ground was broken. 30400 Van Dyke was going to be our new home. Until Chevy changed General Managers. Tom Adams visited the new Chevy GM, Jim McDonald, to update him on our building’s progress. “Why are you putting up a building in Warren?” Jim asked. Tom said, “So we can be across the street from you when you move out there.” Jim said, “We’re not leaving Detroit, and neither are you.” Tom excused himself.  We scrambled to find tenants. Fortunately, the area was growing, so we were able to lease a lot of the space. Campbell-Ewald carried this real estate albatross around it’s neck until there was a regime change at Chevy. Campbell-Ewald was told that Chevy was moving out to the GM Tech Center, and that the agency as expected to follow them. Campbell-CeCo DetroitEwald said, “No problem! We might have a building we can use.” Of course, once GM announced that they were moving their corporate offices downtown to the RenCen on the Detroit River waterfront, Campbell-Ewald knew that they were going to have to pull up stakes and “follow the money.” They took space in a warehouse complex that was once part of the massive J. L. Hudson store, next to, ironically, Ford Field. I’m glad they’ve come home.

Next:  These Guys Are A Lot Different From GM!

The Clouds Part

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As a small boy growing up on the Detroit’s Westside, meaning West of Woodward, I knew nothing of the world of leveraged buy-outs, stock swaps, and conglomerates. My father had worked as the credit manager for Detroit Steel Products, makers of the Fenestra line of industrial windows and casements. Their office Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 1.27.51 PMwas at 2250 East Grand Boulevard.  One day I went to work with my father.  We passed a behemoth of a building on West Grand Boulevard. I was awe-struck by its size. “Tom,” he said, “that’s the General Motors Building.  They’re the biggest company in the world.” While studying advertising at Michigan State, I knew that ad agencies were founded by people with a creative and business vision. The big ones were privately held, and had the founders’ names on the door. If you worked hard, someday you might become a partner and share in the profits. Imagine my surprise when we all got the memo that Campbell-Ewald had been purchased by something called the Interpublic Group. The memo told us all that “nothing would change except our ability to access the resources of our sister companies.” Also, we were all now urged to buy stock in Interpublic.

There was, however, one very visible change. We could all tell who had just become millionaires by the Cheshire cat grins on their faces. One EVP told me, “My stock split 4 to 1!” He felt compelled to tell me how many shares of Campbell-Ewald stock he was converting, knowing full wellburns1 (1) that I’d do the math in my head. Oh well, maybe now he could afford to buy better suits and get his teeth fixed. Our Chevrolet client was unfazed. Interpublic already owned McCann-Erickson, the Buick and GMC agency. The germ of a question was planted in my head. Privately held agencies lived to work for their clients, publicly held agencies lived to work for their stockholders. Would the creative product suffer? Yes, make the client successful, just do it with fewer people and less overhead. I’m all for fiscal responsibility, but there are times when responsibility takes a back seat to common sense. We all knew what our T&E budgets were. Near the end of the year we were told how much under or over budget we were. Being good financial stewards, most of us were under budget. The word got out to the Account Men that the “use it or lose it” rule was being applied by the new bean counters. If an Account Man didn’t use all of his T&E, then, obviously, his allocation was too high and needed to be cut for the next year. Our Chevy clients loved this rule.  It meant that lunches and dinners would rain down on them during the last eight weeks of the year.

Every so often, a creative team hits a dry spell. It happens. The only problem comes when the dry spell comes during a spell of slow sales and client angst. Thus it was in the late Summer of 1977. The Evil Imports were gaining market share on the West Coast. Sadly, our direction was “We’ll know it when we see it.” In desperation, I prepared another Creative Planning Request (CPR) outlining the need for a “hard-hitting” Chevette magazine ad that had a ‘sense of urgency” to it. We were driving people happy…just not enough of them. The creative team and I had a heart to heart. We knew that the best plan was to improve the products. We, however, weren’t in control of that. So we pressed on. A week later, I was summoned to their office for the grand unveiling of the ad.

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The art director and the writer both enjoyed seeing me gasp for breath as I clutched my chest.  “I can’t present this!” I said. ” The client will go nuts.” After they knew that my paroxysm wasn’t going to be fatal, they pulled out another ad for me to present. We all hoped that this one would drive more people happy…and quickly. 

Summer had evolved into Fall of 1997. It was October 20. On the previous day, the New York Giants had beaten the Lions 26-20 in overtime, with a 68 yard pass from Danny Kannel to Chris Calloway.  Oh well, what else was new. I was staring out of my office window which now had a view of West Grand Boulevard…similar to the “ocean view” touted in Southern California real estate ads. “See that smudge of blue haze around that building and through those trees? That’s the ocean!” My phone rang.  My secretary said that a Joan Baeder was on the phone. Realizing that it wasn’t an angry client, I took the call.  “Hello, Tom, she began, “my name is Joan Baeder and I work for Judy Wald-West.  Have you heard of us?” I lied and said yes. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” she asked. This sounded like it could be one of those conversations where  you needed the door closed.  I got up and closed it. “Tom, we’ve been hired by an advertising agency in LA that handles a Japanese car account, I got your name from a friend (it’s always a “friend”) and was wondering if I could talk to you about the position?” The clouds were beginning to open. “Uh, sure,” I said. Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig was looking for an account supervisor to work on the Mazda account.  We both decided it would be best to continue this conversation later after I got home. I would also be able to rewrite my resume to more closely match what they were seeking. Editorial note: Hey, you’ve all done it. FCB and Mazda had become famous for the rotary engines that went “hummmmmm” while piston engines went “boing, boing, boing.” Here’s an RX-3 spot that was definitely not politically or NHTSA correct.

 Our conversation that evening went very well.  It ended with the always scary, “We’ll get back to you.”

Well, they did. Joan told me that they wanted to meet me. Fortunately, I had some vacation left and took two days off to head to LA. FCB was then located on 6th Street, behind Lafayette Park in an area euphemistically “Lower Mid-Wilshire.” For those of you who know a little about LA geography, the office was a few blocks away from MacArthur Park.  They put me up at the stately Sheraton Town House Hotel, next to Lafayette Park. I introduced myself in the FCB lobby and was called back to meet with Denny Remsing. Denny was the Management Supervisor on the account.  The job I sought reported to him. He was an ex- Detroiter,  and one of the nicest people in the ad business. We talked about college, he went to Western Michigan, and some of the mutual friends we had in Detroit. We went to meet with Paul Repetto, the EVP and General Manager of the agency. I met with Jack Foster, the Creative Director. He had taken the day off to paint his house, but came in to see me. Then I was taken to see Lou Scott, the President of FCB/H. The day passed very quickly, and seemed to go well. Everyone was very friendly, and the offices were bright and cheery. But, with my luck,, I knew that Mazda would fire FCB any second, and crush my dream.

The call came after dinner about three long weeks later.  I got the job!! They wanted me out there right away. Interpublic had this rule on cashing out your profit-sharing account. When you resigned, the date was rolled back to either July1, if you resigned in the last half of the year, or January 1, if you resigned before July 1. If I was going to afford a house in LA, I couldn’t afford to pass up almost six months of profit-sharing. In any case, we were going into the Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation periods.  There were only three weeks of actual work left. FCB agreed to have me start on 1/5/78.  I would resign on the morning of 1/3/78, and race for my life for the door. I was going back to LA!!!!!!!!

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Another “Close But No Cigar”

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America and Chevrolet had survived the Bicentennial.  I had learned that playing cards at The Recess Club was a very bad idea. We settled into the task of churning out ads. Denizens of the GM Building soon discovered that the fastest way of getting from the 4th Floor (Campbell-Ewald) to the 2nd Floor (Chevrolet) was to take the interior stairs. The elevators took too long, and you always ran the risk of a Ford or Chrysler spy seeing the layout for the newest Vega ad you were carrying down for approval. There were over a dozen Account Men calling on as many clients. The stairway climbs began about 8:30 AM and continued well past 6:00 ant_farm_2PM. Up and down. Up and down.  If someone were able to cut away the outside of the GM Building, we would appear to be worker ants carrying around bits of food and waste. The only times we took the elevator were for lunch, or to go up to the 10th Floor (GM Legal) to be scolded.

On the role of women in the workplace front, not much had changed since the infamous Christmas party of 1971. Apparently, Account Men, especially the married ones, had to be protected from the sharp talons of home-wrecking husband-hunters. And the Personnel Department took this responsibility seriously. One of our married Account Men had taken a liking to a secretary in the Media Department. The “casual” desk walk-by soon evolved into the “Hey, you must have lots of boyfriends,” fishing expedition, then to the “Hey, if you’re free, I’d be honored to buy you lunch,” gambit, then onto the deal-sealer, “Hey, you know what? I hear that the food at Lelli’s (when there was still one on Woodward) is great.  How about we have dinner there tomorrow?” There then followed a succession of lunches and dinners. The Account Man was certain that after his next dinner, at Topinka’s, he would be able to whisk the lady across the street to the Howard Johnson’s Inn. There was one small problem. Putting the moves on a secretary at Campbell-Ewald was a lot like walking around in church without any pants on.  It sure felt good, but everyone immediately knew about it. The morning of the expected HoJo Hoedown arrived, with a note from the VP- Personnel on the Account Man’s desk.  “Please see me right away,” it said. He went over to HookerPersonnel and was told to come in, close the door, and sit down. The Director got right into it.  “You’ve been seen squiring (yes, he said squiring) a woman from Media around for lunches and dinners. I don’t know how to tell you this, but she’s desperately looking for an Account Man she can sink her hooks into to help her raise her kids. My advice to you is to stop seeing her.  To continue to do so could ruin your career. In fact, take a look at this.”  The Director opened his desk, took out a piece of paper, and handed it to the Account Man. On it were the names of ten secretaries…the Media lady was #4 on the list. “These women,” the Director said, “are known to be of easy virtue and have loose morals. I would advise you to not be seen in the company of any of them.” After the meeting, the Account Man told me about the meeting.  I asked him if this was going to make him change his ways. His answer parroted the punch line about the hell-raising young man in Ireland who went to confession to tell the priest that he’d had sex with one of the village girls.  “Was it Bridget?” the priest asked. “Mary? Cathleen? Megan? Ann? Margaret? Not Siobhan?” When he emerged from the confessional, the boy’s friends asked him if he’d confessed.  “No,” he said, “but I’ve got some great new leads!”

The news of Datsun firing Parker signaled that yet another Import felt that it had outgrown its agency. Toyota had already kicked Clinton E. Frank to the curb in favor of Dancer, Fitzgerald, Sample in 1975. Honda, also in 1974, fired a little known LA agency called Chiat/Day and moved the business to Needham, Harper & Steers. Now it was Datsun’s turn. The ad agency feeding frenzy began. I was sitting at my desk, writing off my gambling losses, when the phone rang. It was George Beech.  He was a part of the William Esty team pitching Datsun. He said that he was in town, and that a “friend” suggested that he might like to meet with me. Hmmm, if they get the account and hire me, I’m on my way back to LA and a free car! Since it had worked so well before, I suggested we meet for breakfast at the Elias Brothers Big Boy near my house. Our breakfast the next day went very well. They were going to fly me to NYC to meet “the team.” I took a couple of vacation days and went. The William Esty main lobby closely resembled the wood  paneled grandeur of the New York Yacht Club. I’m convinced that 90% of all mahogany in the U.S at the camel-life-11-25-1946-999-M5time was used in the Esty lobby. Seated at a grand desk was a receptionist. I introduced myself.  She smiled and pointed to a large display case behind her.  It was filled with cartons of cigarettes.  “Mr. Cavanagh,” she said, “please help yourself to several cartons of your favorite brand.” Esty was one of the lead agencies for R.J. Reynolds, makers of Camel, Winston, Doral, Pall Mall, and Salem, to name several. When I told her that I didn’t smoke, she looked at me as if I had just desecrated the U.S. flag. I waited, uncomfortably, for my summoning. Someone came out to bring me back to an office. The mahogany stopped when you left the lobby. The decor was now old New York City skyscraper shabby. I met with a few people and found out that the “LA team is all set.” If they hired me, I would be working in New York.  I also sensed a great deal of confusion on Esty’s part as to how to organize the account. There would be a “client contact” team in LA, and the oompah-loompahs in NY who actually did the work. I figured that Esty didn’t stand a chance of getting the business, so I politely ended discussions with them after I got back to Detroit. Imagine my surprise when I heard the news that they had won the Datsun account. Oh well, if at first you don’t succeed…

With a new sense of purpose, and the knowledge that I wasn’t going to ever become Chairman of Campbell-Ewald because nobody had told me that I was the “crown prince” in-waiting, I trudged on and hoped that I never really screwed anything up. The Chevrolet National Car Account had a SVP-Management Supervisor, a VP-Account Director, and four Account Executives.  I was handling the National Small Car Account.  The fellow handling the National Big Car Account had left the agency, leaving an opening. At this time, Campbell-Ewald also handled Ramada Inn. Their headquarters were in Phoenix , AZ. As part of our client service, we stationed a young Account Man in Phoenix. We had become friends when he worked in Detroit in what the agency Ramada logocalled the Multi-Products Group…which meant everything except Chevy. During the Summer of 1977, the temperature in Phoenix was averaging about 283 degrees during the day, while it plummeted to 195 degrees at night. I mentioned to him that there was a spot on the Chevy account that had just opened up that he might be interested in. And, it was only going to be 95 in Detroit. Shortly after that, Tony Hopp left Phoenix to return to Detroit as the National Big Car guy on Chevy at Campbell-Ewald. I wonder whatever happened to him?

Next: The Clouds Part