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, November 7, 2010

Moving Fast

One of K&E's big introductions was a line of wine coolers, back when Gallo's “Bartles & Jaymes” became the big fad in light alcoholic beverages in the eighties.

We couldn't compete with the commercials that the great Hal Riney created for Ernest & Julio Gallo in 1984– two “hicky” men they might be called today – acting the part of small winery owners and who became faux folk heroes and were even parodied on Saturday Night Live and by Conan O'Brien.

I think the public knew it was a phony act for the giant of the wine industry, but it was so well done that nobody cared. Their corny tag line, “thank you for your support” caught on in a big way.

Seagram's, seeing this new category as a way to make even more money, came to us for the whole intro package – name, design, packaging, ad campaign.

The first thing they did was to give everybody in the ad agency a list of names that Seagram's owned – names like Sunshine, Splash, Whoosh, whatever – and asked everybody to pick their favorite to go with the product.

Most people did what they were told. Not me.

I wrote a memo which said that none of the names on the list were good enough. Not when the company had a name that was already extended to “mixers” – ginger ale, tonic, seltzer, etc.

So, I was the one who saw the obvious and dared to state it – that the wine coolers be considered another “line extension” and carry the company name.

That's how I came to be the one who named Seagram's Wine Coolers as “Seagram's Wine Coolers.”

And yes – some of us are actually paid for thinking like this. A great and strange art director I worked with used to call it “Grovelling before the altar of commerce.” And that's why I volunteer these days to use these skills to try to “sell” something more beneficial to the general public, such as the New York State Theatre Institute.

Seagram's management didn't have as much sense when it came to the ad campaign for their new wine coolers, though. Seems somebody at the top was starry-eyed enough to actually pay Bruce Willis to sing for the brand, back when he had hair. What a disaster.

They came running back to us after that flop and we started a new internal competition – to come up with a positioning line for the new brand to kind of re-introduce it, still with Mr. Willis, but no longer singing. I guess they had to get their money's worth.

The new theme line was needed yesterday. From my early days of training in Albany radio and ad agencies, I knew how to write fast and good.

I churned out a few choice phrases and submitted them. They were all tested overnight, and one of mine came out on top. In a matter of days, “Taste it all!” was everywhere – on buttons, ads, radio, TV, store displays.

And soon after that, a sales rep that serviced a lot of the big agencies came into my office and told me that I was responsible for a lot of angst at McCann-Erickson, Coca-Cola Company's main ad agency. Seems they had been testing the same line for Coke for a long time as their next big international campaign theme, and of course, had to drop it, although, according to Wikipedia, Diet Coke finally carried that theme in the US in 1993. Some things just won't go away.

So, the takeaway is simply that you win some and you lose some.

Next time: Some losers.

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