I Leave Home

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child walking along road

 

As in many other industries, ad agencies follow a certain protocol when poaching talent from another agency. Rather than use a “scorched earth” policy that leaves behind bad feelings, reputable agencies rely on oblique seduction.  Thus it was when I was approached about leaving the bosom of Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig. Bill Hagelstein of Needham, Harper & Stears, called me one sunny afternoon.  Bill was part of the original immigrant wave from Detroit who ventured to Southern California to make ads for Japanese cars. In fact, we had worked together on the Datsun (now Nissan) account at Parker Advertising…for about 15 minutes. Bill had been working there for some time.  Datsun fired Parker 15 minutes after I was hired. Fate was attempting again to bring us together.

One sunny May afternoon in 1982 I received a call from Bill. After we exchanged pleasantries, Bill asked mMouth at Phonee if I might be able to help him with a favor. I immediately agreed. The folks at Needham were looking for an account supervisor to work on Honda. Bill outlined the responsibilities, salary range, and benefits.  I told him that I would “make inquiries.” I sat at my desk, staring at the narcotics officers busting crack dealers in the park across the street. It was then that a thought crossed my mind.  “Why should I offer someone else for this plum job.  Why don’t I go for it?” I went home and discussed it with the family. I was going to go for it.

I called Bill early the next morning. Like two sand cranes performing a mating ritual, Bill and I danced around the issue for a few minutes.  Then I said, “Bill, I thought of someone who would be perfect for the job at Needham. Me.” He laughed and said, “I was hoping you’d say that. I couldn’t come right out and ask you.” Plausible deniability. By me asking him, Needham couldn’t be accused of poaching. The agencies and clients would be calm about it.

It was tough leaving FCB/H. They are the ones, after all, who had plucked me from the Slough of Despond. I felt a great deal of loyalty toward the co-workers who had taught me that Tanqueray  was a damn fine gin. But I had to face facts. I didn’t see much chance for imminent upward mobility. The client was struggling to find a new identity afteMoney Stackr being known for their rotary engines. At the time, Mazda was split into two American companies. One headquartered in Rancho Dominguez, CA., the other in Jacksonville, FL. Consensus on creative was often a rocky road. Oh, who am I kidding? I did it for the money.

Honda and NH&S were whole different worlds from where I was. Accords, Civics, and Preludes were flying out of dealer showrooms faster than the trucks could deliver them. It was like printing money.  Actually, a few years later something like that was going on. But enough has been written about that chapter that I don’t need to go there.

One of the first things I noticed in my new world was that American Honda actually
Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 9.20.03 AMmirrored what their advertising slogan was: Honda – We Make It Simple. No onorous creative and budget presentations to countless levels of committees . For major presentations we would be in front of four people: Joe Haight, the Honda Ad Manager, Tom Elliott , at that time the VP of Marketing, Cliff Schmillen, SVP of the automotive division, and Yoshihide Munekuni (known affectionately as “Moon”), the President of the automotive division.  Back then, Honda was using the avuncular, soothing tones of Burgess Meredith as the voice-over talent in the commercials. Once the storyboard had been presented, we would read the copy, starting with the words, “And then Burgess says…”

Honda also gave NH&S responsibilities that went beyond the “normal” client/agency relationship. Working with Porter/Novelli Public Relations, we put on their new product short-lead press previews. One of our account people was the “The Honda News Bureau.” We produced their major meetings, including their annual dealer meetings.

In previous posts I’ve gone on about how great it was to have a job that gave you a free car. This job went a step further. It allowed you to hobnob with the rich and famous. Honda was coming out with a completely new iteration of the Accord.  They wanted to dazzle their dealers at the dealer meeting where the car would be revealed. Honda asked us to handle the meeting. Honda knew that most of their dealers would attend with spouses and/or girlfriends in tow. Honda wanted to invite industry thought-leaders. J.D. Power (Dave Power) would attend with his Associates. I was glad Dave was coming because he loved cigars as much as I did. Honda Motor Ltd. executives from Tokyo would be there. A lot of people would be there. We needed a massive venue. Bob Welsh was the titular head of the Honda account at NH&S.  He also was the producer of the Honda meetings and shows. He put Sol Hurok to shame.

The first thing Bob did was to take over the Las Vegas Hilton. They could accommodate thehilton-las-vegas 2000+ rooms that would be needed. Then he booked a “surprise mystery guest,” to boost attendance. Then he used the leverage that comes with booking thousands of rooms to coerce the kitchen and chefs to do the near impossible. When I checked in three days before the event, I was told by reception that I only needed to provide ID. I said, “Don’t you need a credit card for incidentals?” I was told that wouldn’t be necessary as my entire stay was being comped.

Very impressive.  I immediately tried to determine how many pay-per-view movies I could watch during the six days I would be there. The new Accord presentation went off without a hitch. When the commercials were shown in the darkened ballroom, our agency plants in the audience were able to start the cheering and applauding. Almost as impressive as the show was the dinnerBobHope that night.  After a few words from Cliff Schmillen, dinner started.  The Hilton chefs had prepared Beef Wellingtons for 2,000, all of them served warm. Dessert was flaming Baked Alaska for 2,000, all of them done correctly. After dinner Cliff introduced the “surprise mystery guest” to the musical strains of “Thanks for The Memories.” Bob Hope walked
out to thunderous applause. Hope was great. A few hours before the dinner his people had asked for the names of the Honda president, the largest dealer, the worst golfer, the highest ranking executive from Japan, etc. He seamlessly worked all of them into his routine. After the dinner, several of us from the agency and Honda were told to be in the lobby the next morning by 9:00 AM. We were also told to bring swimsuits.

The next morning, six of us assembled in the lobby. The Hilton’s Director of Marketing came up to us and said, “Follow me.” We went out the front doors and were escorted into waiting limousines. I breathed a sigh of relief as the limos turned toward Lake Mead and were not heading out into the desert. We were’t going to be whacked! The Marketing VP Hilton Yachttold us that the Hilton Hotel wanted to thank us for our “hard work” over the last few days by letting us spend the day on Barron Hilton’s yacht. The crew saluted as we boarded. A light breakfast was laid out in one of the state rooms. The bartender was able to supply much needed Bloody Marys. I spotted a box of pampers, guessing that those were for baby Paris. We cruised to a small cove on the other side of the lake where the captain dropped anchor. A diving board was attached to the stern section of the upper deck. Lunch was served onshore. After an afternoon of Glennfiddich-fueled cannonball dives off of the diving board, the captain headed back to the marina where the waiting limos took us back to the hotel. Hmmmm. This Honda gig was pretty neat!

 

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Life Imitates Art!

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Softball

Advertising is stressful, competitive, daunting, draining, exciting, and stimulating. It also tests the limits of your endurance, and is always just a hair’s breadth away from erupting into violence. That’s why Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig had a co-ed softball team. We wanted to carry these life shortening characteristics into our evenings and weekends. We took it seriously.  This was not your fluffy “oops, let’s have a do-over” type of softball.  This was “take-no-prisoners” softball. We were L.A. advertising’s softball equivalent to Burt Reynolds’ convict team in The Longest Yard. Our 3rd baseman had been a star on the UCLA women’s softball team. Her throws to 1st base were measured in nano-seconds. Our left fielder carried, along with his glove, a six-pack of Pabst into left field with him every inning. Our 2nd baseman was able to schedule his psychotherapy sessions around our games andDrinking Team practices. And, like Pavlov’s dogs getting their treats for positive behaviors, we would retire to Sloan’s on Melrose to fuel our libidos. Alas, like the Tail O’the Cock, Sloan’s is long gone; given over to those who cater to glitterati and illiterati. 

The FCB team was a juggernaut of raging estrogen and testosterone. We would “juice” with our own proprietary concoction, testrogen,before each game. It was now 1980.  We were in the playoffs.  Our next opponent was William Esty, the agency for Datsun. We knew that no quarter would be given or sought. Nerves were on edge. We were all wound tighter than $5 Sears ukeleles. The game was close. The crowd was frenzied. then, it happened……. The Esty batter hit a slow grounder to 3rd base. Our star 3rd baseman charged it, and with one motion, picked it up with her hand and fired it to 1st base. Unfortunately, Patty Dryer, our crack 1st baseman, had her foot on the foul territory side of the bag, rather than on the 2nd base side. Because of this, her right leg 1st Baseand hip were directly over the base. The ball and the runner, who had his head down running as fast as he could to beat the throw, reached Patty at the same time. Because half of her body was across the base, the runner hit her like an Amtrak train hitting a small goat. She was out cold before she hit the ground.  The ball caromed off into right field.

Time was immediately called. Patty was carried off of the field and put underneath a shade tree. Her husband, a beefy ex-marine who ran his own collection agency, charged out of the stands and went after the Esty runner. It took five of us to drag Patty’s husband to the ground and explain that it was an accident.  The Esty runner was one of the nicest guys in LA advertising, and he didn’t mean it.  The collision was Patty’s fault. Cooler heads prevailed. For a while.

We were in the second to last inning, and had the game well in hand, when it became payback time.  Just like in Major League Baseball, “you hurt one of ours, we’ll hurt one of yours,” came into play. Except there was only one person on our team who felt this way…our left fielder who had already consumed six innings of Pabst six packs. He had advanced to 3rd base, when one of our folks hit a fly ball to left.  The Esty fielder caught it for the second out. Our guy on third base began to slowly walk down the line toward home plate, yelling at the left fielder to throw the ball to the catcher to tag him out. Oh no! He was going to take out the catcher! We all yelled at him to go back to third. The poor catcher, Home Platewho was only playing that position because he’d hurt his leg and couldn’t run, knew what was coming. He slowly moved to the side of home plate. The left fielder took the bait, threw the ball to the catcher, and our guy went into overdrive, going out of the base path to take out the catcher, who by now was fleeing toward the dugout. The collision set off car alarms for three square miles.

And just like the true sportsmen and sportswomen we all were, the benches emptied. Lots of pushing, shoving, groping, and cursing. We felt bad, because the Esty folks really hadn’t done anything wrong. But, true to our warrior code, BB fightwe had to watch each other’s backs. After a few minutes of jostling and bellowing, enough to satisfy the honor code, we all retired to our respective benches…except for our left fielder. He had been kicked out of the game.  This didn’t bother him too much, as he was able to make a quick beer run. We won the game and went on to win the West Coast Championship. After the game, we retired to Sloan’s to lie to each other about how great our advertising was. Patty was there, with her red badge of courage bandage over her eye. The Esty guy bought her drinks all night.

A few weeks later, the agency folks were in Las Vegas for the annual Mazda dealer show. This was going to be the first time the Mazda dealers would be seeing the new Mazda RX-7, the car that was to save the franchise. We were going to use a new, at that time, technology whereby the car would be revealed traveling through a tunnel of laser light out over the audience. This was going to be huge, the most expensive new model reveal in Mazda history. The night before the show saw us all trying to get everything ready. Top executives from Toyo Kogyo in Japan would be in attendance. It was now 1:00 AM and we noticed that the electricians rigging the lasers had stopped working and were sitting around smoking. I asked them why they had stopped working.  They gave me another life lesson.  “See that pipe up near the ceiling? We have to pass a cable over it.”   “So?” I asked. “Well, you see, we’re electricians, not plumbers.  That pipe carries water for the sprinkler system.  We can’t touch it. We’ve put out a call for a plumber.” Two agonizing hours later, a plumber walked in.  He was getting triple time as this was an “emergency” call. The plumber and an electrician rode a scissor-lift to the ceiling. The electrician handed the cable to the plumber, the plumber laid it over the pipe, and Violá, everything was back on schedule. The reveal went off without a hitch, and everyone was very happy. Including the plumber.

Laser Tunnel

Next: I Hang Out With Supermodels!

T&E Heaven

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man_and_money_250

There is an old adage that says: “Some men are born to greatness, other men have greatness thrust upon them.” There is an advertising industry corollary to that: “Some men are born to party, other men have parties thrust upon them.”Apparently, I’ve been told, I was both event_120036parts of the corollary. The reasons why have been lost in the mists of time, but the folks at FCB thought I knew how to throw a great party. And I proved them true. But not without some damage to my mental stability. It all began when the birthday of one of our account team was several days off. The prevailing custom was to find out what kind of cuisine the celebrant wanted for lunch. We’d find an appropriate restaurant, and the luncheon would be “expensed” away. Back in those days, we had “employee morale” budgets. They could have also been called “employee morals” budgets, but I digress. The birthday girl said that she’d like to try Chinese for lunch.  I spoke up and forever changed the course of my life. I knew of a great Szechuan place nearby. I was told, “Make it happen.” The next day I went on an “exploratory” lunch to Règǒu, a nifty local Szechuan place. I told them that I wanted to set up a luncheon for twelve people. That got their attention. They streamed out a parade of delectable dishes. I ordered one of each. I didn’t care, we were talking expense account here.eight-major The staff said that they would make the lunch “extra special” for us. They did. We arrived en masse and were blown away by the presentation that greeted us.  The food and service were wonderful. It was a truly wonderful three-hour lunch. Little did I know that the pu-pu platter of my destiny had been set. “Tom, you’ve got a knack for this.  From know on you are in charge of all entertainment”

The genie had been let out of the bottle! I had become the Sol Hurok of FCB. Each birthday lunch was like staging the Olympics. My birthday is March 1st. I was eagerly waiting to see who would take over and plan my birthday lunch. No surprise, I was told that I would plan my own birthday lunch. To add insult to injury, our new EVP’s birthday was March 5th. The executive decision was made to combine our birthday lunches. This was done not so much for financial reasons, as for appearances. The Mazda Account Group was rapidly gaining a reputation (totally undeserved) at the agency as a group of partiers. It wouldn’t look good to have the group gone all afternoon twice in four days. Additionally, as the EVP outranked me, he got to choose the restaurant for our combined birthdays. No problem. I employed another old adage: “Living well is the best revenge.” I suggested to him that it might be fun to make the trek from FCB out to Marrakesh in Studio City.  Great Moroccan food, and we could lie down while we ate. He agreed. Of course, I had to make the “exploratory” trip. We would eat like kings, or rather, khalifas. One of the secretaries mentioned that there would be a “surprise” during the lunch. As long as it wasn’t my credit card being declined, I was fine with it. We had gorged ourselves on couscous, hummus, lamb, bastilla, and harira, and were Marrakkeshabout to start our third round of camel spit shooters, when the music started. Two of the secretaries had slipped away, changed, and come to the table as belly dancers. then the party really began, much to the chagrin at the people sitting near us. The tacit agreement between all of us was that Personnel was never to hear about this. Most of us drove straight home after lunch.

Management decided that I was ready for the big time…at least as far as being the agency’s Perle Mesta. The 1980 National Automobile Dealers’ Association was coming up. Five days of non-stop feasting, drinking, partying, and party-sceneestate planning seminars. Even though it was a dealer convention, the manufacturers came to entertain their dealers and get yelled at by them at the “Make Meetings.” FCB was going to throw the mother of all dinner parties for our Mazda clients. I was only given one directive, “Make it special.” There were going to be twenty of us. The dinner was set for a Thursday night during the NADA convention, this year in Las Vegas.

I called the event planning company putting on the huge Mazda Dealer Reception the next night to ask for some suggestions for our dinner.  The place had to be quiet, excellent, classy, private, off of The Strip, and would bill me as I knew that the tab on this would melt my credit card. Without any hesitation, she said, “David’s.” David’s was a swanky restaurant that looked like a colonial-styled funeral home from the South. It was about five miles west of The Strip on W. Sahara Rd. Lots of gold and formal-dinner-party (1)marble, and Roman statues. I met with their banquet manager to develop a menu. Premium-brand liquor served by lovely Roman toga-clad goddesses during the cocktail reception. Lobster rolls and caviar to snack on. For dinner, we would have Caesar salad, crab bisque, sorbet, beef Wellington, and baked Alaska. All of it washed down with gallons of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. For after dinner, we had cheese plates and cognac…with some fine cigars. After we were sated, our Mazda clients staggered out in groups, until there was just myself and Denny Remsing. The maitre’d gave me the check. With the mandatory 20% gratuity, the bill came to $5882.98. Denny said, “Can you cover that, because my card won’t.” I told him not to worry, as I had arranged for a direct bill to FCB. I signed the tab, attached my business card, and left for an evening of NADA debauchery.

The following morning I received a frantic call from my office. David, himself, had called and was looking for me.  I was to call him immediately.  Uh-oh. I called the restaurant and asked for David. He was livid. “You walked out onShakedown a $6000 tab.  I want you to get you ass over her right now and give me my money. Nobody runs out on me!” I figured that David wasn’t in the mood for any type of customer service lessons. I told him that I had arranged for them to bill FCB. He said he knew nothing of it. He wanted to know what hotel I was in. Fortunately, I had the brains to not tell him. I told him that I would call our office and have them expedite a check to him.  He wanted his money now. I called the office.  They said they couldn’t send a check without the dinner bill. I called and left a message for David, telling him that the check would be cut on Monday, when I got back. I found out that David called my office many times that day, demanding to know where I was staying. The office didn’t rat me out. I kept a low profile for the rest of the weekend, not dancing on tables, getting kicked out of bars, or starting fights in parking lots. On Monday, I got to the office early and had the check processed. While it was being signed, David called.  “I’ve sent a couple of fellows over to you office to pick up my money.” I peaked down the staircase and saw two guys in trench coats who looked like Clemenza and Tessio. Our bookkeeper ran the check down to them.  They left. I exhaled.

Two weeks later, our controller called to tell me that the check to David hadn’t been cashed. I called the restaurant to discover that I had reached a number that was “no longer in service.” I called my event planning friend who Arson_t607gave me the news. David’s Restaurant had mysteriously burned to the ground the Wednesday after we had given them the check. On top of that, nobody knew what had happened to David. He had apparently vanished. Just goes to show you, you don’t mess with the T.C.!!!!   

 

Next: More Fine Dining

We Go To The Mattresses

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Mattresses

Mid-summer, 1978, was approaching. Something unimaginable happened! A lowly account executive (me…or I, to use better grammar) was asked to help develop the upcoming year’s marketing strategy. People actually sat down and hammered these things out. Up until this point, I had always believed that new car model year marketing and creative strategies were left underneath the table of booth #3 at the London Chop House by the Strategy Fairy. The advertising agency scrutinized the documents, then instructed their account people to write creative planning requests, which the creative department dutifully turned into great advertising. In late June, Mazda give us a presentation outlining their objectives and strategies for the coming model year. We were briefed on the new models, and what competitive advantages they had. They told us their demographic targets. They then left the room with a hearty 頑張ってね! Bonne chance! Our keeping the Mazda account depended largely on how wonderful our presentation would be. The work on the 1979 Plan would begin in earnest. My guess is thatBoring Presentation we would commandeer one of the conference rooms, probably the main one, for the next month or so.  This would be the “War Room” my friends at other agencies had described to me. Sixteen-hour days going over data, looking at consumer trends, swilling coffee, ordering Big Macs, and wondering what daylight looked like. I was up for the challenge. Long, tedious hours that would test the mettle of any human. Would I be able to stand up to the challenge? I was soon to discover that I would, and enjoy it!

Denny Remsing, my boss, told me that we were NOT going to build a War Room in the main conference room. Instead, we would be “going to the mattresses.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this was used by Mafia families when they wanted to hide out from the police, from other mob families gunning for them, or to just “disappear” for a while. Our purpose was the last one. Denny said, “Tom, we have to stay away from the distractions of the office, from telephone calls, from mundane meetings, from sales calls, and from the ‘pressures’ of an ordinary work environment.” Made sense to me. The next day, we took out adjoining lanai rooms at the Sheraton Town House. Since the agency was only about 200 yards away, assistants could run messages and mail over to us. Armed with briefcases full of data, legal sized notepads, pencils, changes of clothes, and our swim suits, we checked in. I Pooldid mention that the rooms were poolside, didn’t I? Room service sure beat Big Macs, and the margaritas beat cold coffee. I did, however, have to go buy some sunscreen. I planned on expensing it.

We worked slavishly away. After work, the secretaries and account assistants would selflessly drop by to help interpret the data, analyze trends, empty the mini-bars, and check the chlorine levels in the Town House pool. Denny and I were employing the FCB “Know The Consumer” process to develop the finished document. We would examine each aspect of the marketplace, distill the information to a key fact, then use the assembled key facts to develop objectives and strategies. We would also use distilled agave juice to help us arrive at an overall conclusion. Our work was so powerful, I think that Datsun and Toyota sent spies over to try and steal some of our insights. Whenever we had the account team over to help us _DSC3170 (Custom) (2)out by playing and dancing to “Hollywood Nights” by Bob Seger, Abba’s “Take A Chance on Me,” and the soundtrack to “Grease” while checking the chlorine levels in the pool, these spies, dressed as aluminum siding salesmen from Des Moines, would emerge from the bar in their cheesy suits, and just sit and stare at us for hours and hours.

July 11, 1978, a day that will live forever in the annals of women’s rights. I also remember that date as it was the day of the 49th annual MLB all-star Game, the broadcast of which is also part of this story. Denny and I finished the 1979 Marketing and Advertising Plan. We would, along with the Creative Director and the Associate Media Director, be presenting to Mazda at our offices. The Associate Media Director was presenting, even though the Geisha_Kyoto_Gionactual Media Director had put the media portion of the plan together, because he was a male and the Director was a woman. The erroneous prevailing thought back then was that, because Japanese women had no or little role in business in Japan, our Mazda client might be reluctant to deal with a woman. The Associate Media Director was put forward as the agency’s Mazda Media Man. Of course, this did not sit well with the Media Director. She sat in the back of the room for the presentation.  As the clients filed out to join us for lunch at the Wilshire Country Club, one of them asked the Media Director if she would be joining us.  She immediately said, “Yes!” A quick call to the club added another chair at the table. Everyone’s spirits were running high thanks to the cocktails, wine, and the excellent marketing plan Denny and I had written. The lunch was winding down, and the table talk was getting louder, when the EVP of Mazda asked our Media Director a question. “If you are the Media Director, why haven’t we seen at any meetings?” She had to almost shout across the table to him because of the other loud conversations. “It’s because management thinks I’ll say “sh%t” at a meeting.”  What she didn’t know was that all the Mazda clients had heard the question and they all stopped talking just in time to hear her answer. The last “t” of her response was still echoing through the room when our president looked across the table at her and said, “Yes, my dear, that’s exactly why we keep you away from our Mazda client.” This was followed by three seconds of awkward silence. Then all of the Mazda clients broke out laughing. “We think this is wonderful,” they said. “We don’t get to work with female executives in Japan.” These presentation lunches were always followed by golf or tennis.  “Are you going to play golf or tennis with us?” they asked. “Well,” she said, “I don’t play golf but I can run home and get my tennis stuff and meet you on the courts.”

The golf and tennis came off without a hitch. The golfers showered and changed for dinner at the club. The tennis courts were at the Sheraton Town House, so the tennis players used my lanai room to change and have some refreshments. A lot of refreshments. The Media Director showered and changed first, while the rest of us gathered around the television to watch the All-Star game. She soon joined us, as the next person went off to cleanse himself. I ordered more towels. The room had Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 10.23.24 PMbecome thick with cigar smoke and shower steam. The game was tied going into the bottom of the 9th. Goose Gossage was brought in to pitch for the AL. Steve Garvey led off with a triple, scoring on a Gossage wild pitch. A walk, and error, and three singles scored three more runs.  The NL fans in the room were going wild. Mazda’s Marketing Director, a rabid NL fan, was in the shower when the shouting started. Clutching a towel in front of himself, he came into the room to watch.  After about five minutes, he realized that he was standing behind our seated Media Director. So did everyone else. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I was raised with three brothers.  You don’t have anything I haven’t seen a lot of before.” From that day on, she attended every presentation.  

Next: T&E Heaven

I Learn About International Trade

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Glamor

MITI. Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry. They called the shots in Japan when it came to manufacturing and international trade. Truth be told, MITI was happy when the U.S. imposed import quotas on how many Japanese cars could be imported here. Once they had a finite quota number, they were able to parcel out allocations to the Japanese car manufacturers based on “what was hot.” Datsun was selling well, especially with the Z car.  Give them a bigger piece of the pie. Mazda was still reeling from their reliance on rotary engines, so they got a smaller piece, until they could prove otherwise to MITI. The Japanese imports fought desperately for market share. They were more willing to try unconventional media ideas than Detroit. One of these ideas, for Mazda, was to venture into the shadowy world of “skin magazines.” You have to remember, this was still the 70s, still no universal internet access to titillation. Playboy, still considered taboo by many, and Penthouse, considered taboo by almost everybody, had just about given up getting any automotiveLittle Boy Penthouse advertising. But then, sometimes the forbidden fruit is the sweetest. The decision was made that Mazda was going to advertise in both, as well as Oui, a Playboy spinoff. The client was quite adamant that “it made sense from a demographic point of view.” Well, yes, men in droves did read these magazines.

We inked the deal.  The magazines were so excited that they immediately asked us to provide them with a list of Mazda executives who should be put on the magazine “comp” list. Mazda came back to us with a list of about 20 people. Of Playboy_Penthousecourse, we couldn’t convince the magazines that there were 20 people at Mazda who had input on media decisions. The list was cut to 10. We received frequent phone calls asking us when the comp copies would start arriving. I should point out that Mazda was not alone in this quest. Many of the Japanese car companies started advertising in this category. Back then, Playboy was all about “the girl next door.” Even though the Playmates were anything but. Penthouse went for the “girl you’d pick up at a strip club and who might beat you up.” This was pretty accurate. There was a smattering of angry letters from religious organizations and irate parents in Texas. In general, however, Mazda weathered the tide. The comps started arriving, and all was right with Mazda. I did, however, notice a strange phenomenon. After several months, I still had not seen one of the magazines in any of the Mazda offices. Were they taking them home? Probably not.

In my post of 10/31/13, I discuss the concepts of tatemae and honne. I was soon to discover the honne of advertising in Playboy and Penthouse. Until recently, Japanese censors were pretty strict about what could andplayboy1 couldn’t be shown of the human body. Japanese-language editions of Playboy and Penthouse had the “naughty bits” blacked out. International mail was checked lest someone send an American edition back home. If discovered, the censors dutifully, and with great care, affixed stickers over the offending parts. Any attempt to remove the sticker would tear the page. Every piece of mail that came into the country had to go through a customs check. I Customspreviously mentioned the all-powerful MITI. They convinced the Japanese government that anything that slowed down international trade was bad for the country. That included business mail from the United States. I should also note that business was conducted differently in Japan. It was an expense account economy.

And, public officials were often given small presents to help them make decisions. I asked one of my Mazda clients about the vanishing magazines. He and I had advanced to a honne level of conversation.  He told me. “Tom,” he explained, “we can’t get American versions of Playboy and Penthouse in Japan. Censors find them in customs and place stickers on them. However, correspondence from the U.S. branches of Japanese companies is allowed to be sent in diplomatic pouches. This speeds their delivery. Every month, we 20100501-salary D-AR02-22 japan-photo.detake all 10 copies of each magazine and send them in the diplomatic pouch. They are very valuable in Japan.” I knew where this was going. “So,” I asked, “they become gifts for Mazda executives to give to the folks at MITI?” He nodded. I decided to call my friend, the rep from Psychology Today. “Joe,” I said, “if you want to get on the Mazda media schedule, next month’s issue has to have a foldout of Miss Nude Schizoaffective Disorder.”

But all did not stay peaceful in Licentiousland. The Penthouse rep contacted us about putting on a dinner for us and key Mazda clients. She hoped to seal the deal by telling us that two Penthouse Pets would be there. Everyone RSVP’d “Yes.” All of Mazda’s top management would attend. The dinner was held in a private room at a very nice LA restaurant. Cocktails flowed freely as we waited for our host and the “guests of honor” to arrive. Her assistant had put out copies of the magazines in which the ladies appeared. I don’t know how I would have reacted if, while eating dinner, the person next to me was going through a magazine full of pictures of me in my birthday suit. business_dinnerThe two Pets were polar opposites in looks, demeanor, and intelligence. Hildegard Grossebruste was from Hamburg, Germany. Brunette, with flawless English. Bambi Fay Culpepper was from Kermit, Texas. Blonde, with a hardscrabble look to her, she didn’t have flawless English. Hildegard was seated next to me at the long dinner table. Bambi Fay was across from me. Hildegard had married a GI to get in to the U.S. He left her and their daughter a few months after getting here. She admitted that she wasn’t very proud of her magazine layout, but she needed the $10,000 that it paid. She wanted to “become a movie star” but was worried that her appearance in Penthouse would ruin her chances. I said, “Hey, it didn’t stop Vanessa Williams.”

Bambi Fay was a different story.  I asked her whether Kermit was in West Texas. She said yes. I asked her if it was near Midland-Odessa.  She said, “I think so. On Saturday nights the boys put a couple of us girls in the back of a pickup truck and drive to Midland to party. It takes about half an hour, so I guess it’s nearby.” It soon became apparent that the only reason Bambi was here was for the opportunity to down vast amounts of Jack and Coke. Soon, to use a Texas term, she proceeded to get snot slinging drunk. She very loudly complained that she would rather be at the Whiskey a Go-Go, or The Troubadour, rather than at “a dinner with a bunch of foreigners.” Then she got sloppy, knocking over drinks. When our host admonished her, Bambi let fly with enough profanity to peel the paint off of an oil rig. She jumped to her feet and said, “You all can go frag (she didn’t actually say frag) yourselves. I’m out of here. Half you guys can’t even speak English good.” Hildegard jumped to her feet. “Bambi,” she said, “you are being very rude. You wouldn’t be in LA at a fabulous restaurant if it wasn’t for these nice gentlemen. Behave Women Fightingyourself and sit down!” Bambi wasn’t having any of this. She came around the table and took a swing at Hildie.  She missed and went flying into the dessert tray. She stood up, wiped the tiramisu off of her face, and stormed out. This pretty much ended the dinner. The Penthouse rep was horrified. On the verge of tears, she and Hildegard bade farewell to the Mazda clients…who had seen and heard quite enough. Penthouse was soon cut from the media schedule.

The next morning, Hildegarde showed up at the agency. One of our creative guys at the dinner said that he’d like to talk to her about putting her in TV commercials.

Next: We Go To The Mattresses

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