How I Got to Madison Avenue. And beyond.

As with life, this blog is developing and changing. It began with a lot of stories that occurred on my career path from Albany to Madison Avenue and back.

There were some similarities to the AMC series "Mad Men," and then I went even farther back in time with a somewhat fictionalized version of growing up in Troy's Little Italy.

And now, a new development. As my free lance advertising and marketing career winds down, I'm becoming more interested in the theatre arts that my father and his 3 brothers helped instill in me as I grew up.

As a result, I've volunteered to help promote the Theatre Institute at Sage, and now, to continue a long-interrupted desire to be behind the proscenium, I've joined the newly formed Troy Civic Theatre, and was actually fortunate enough to appear in their first production.

So, I hope you'll enjoy the new stories that will develop from this latest turn.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


The image of the creative person who throws a tantrum when his or her idea is rejected is pretty standard. The crybaby's reason is usually because his or her solution is the only one.

Well, I'm here to tell you that that's the biggest lie in advertising. There are actually an infinite number of great, creative solutions to every problem. With the possible exception of how to convince that creative crybaby that I'm right.

Creativity can and does come from anywhere, at anytime – sometimes without the creator realizing it. (Example – I emailed a friend – who writes a terrific food blog – about a restaurant I visited recently. I thought I was just recommending it to her, but she saw it as an actual review, and asked to include it in her blog. You can read it here.)

This cartoon ad by my friend John Caldwell was one of a proposed series that was rejected.

The problem in this case was not that a roomful of clients didn't like it – they loved it, laughed and then turned it down because they turned everything down, on a regular basis.

That story and a few other rejections today.

Selling In

Every couple of months, the account executive, my art director and I would fly to Detroit, rent a car and drive south into Canada to meet with a roomful of executives responsible for selling Canadian Club Classic. Their billboards and ads had carried the same theme and copy line for ages.

We would present an incredible range of creative executions, all beautifully drawn by the AD with words carefully crafted by me – on themes of oak, wood, barrels, time, classics – any and every nuance we could think of.

The clients loved it all. But they never approved a new concept. Because that wasn't the point of the meetings. They wanted service, and that's what we were there for. We entertained, we showed them possibilities, they knew we were working for them, and they were happy when we went away. We knew the score, we were getting paid, we did our job.

Other campaigns, however, for other clients, were rejected for different reasons. One of the most prevalent reasons for rejection is that the agency does a lousy job of selling the client on the idea. You've seen it on Mad Men, if you follow their rather accurate portrayals of client meetings.

Every ad campaign has to work twice. If it's not sold in to the client, it will never get out to the consumer.

The great Sid Caesar wrote a very frank autobiography in the early 1980's, called “Where Have I Been?” He spoke about it at the Museum of Broadcasting, where he autographed my copy.

I remembered a very funny character he played on early TV, a professor with a Viennese accent who claimed to know everything, and actually got everything wrong. I thought it would make a great spot for Curad bandages, which always featured children calling them “ouchless.” We mocked up storyboards that showed the professor lecturing on the bandages, with a child next to him, correcting him. It was funny and good-natured. His agent showed it to Caesar and he loved it. I believe would have captured the market. Colgate-Palmolive's account manager said no, and that was the end of that.

There was a different reason for the same manager to reject my next idea for a Curad TV spot. This one was animated – using Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters, with Lucy as the doctor, recommending Curad for everybody. The problem here was our own failure to research in advance – the characters were already licensed to Curad's biggest competitor.

Research was the key to a creative execution for another Colgate product I worked on -- a laundry detergent called “Fresh Start.” The art director and I researched commercial laundries and discovered that they don't use as much detergent as consumers do at home. They use the power of many rinses to clean. So we created a character who challenges commercial laundries, claiming to get clothes cleaner with Fresh Start, and always wins. I guess we didn't sell that one well, either, because it was rejected.

Lest you think none of my ideas every made it out the door, next time I'll regale you with some successes.

1 comment:

  1. What an insight! Just because you're pitching ad campaigns to Canadian Club (the "objective") doesn't mean that's the goal, or "purpose"...the purpose was to provide insurance to the CC mgmt that they weren't overlooking an opportunity...or at least to review the options for change. I think more business...much more business...operates on this fundamental principle of human behavior (aversion to change vs costs of status quo)than people realize.