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ANECDOTES FROM THE AD BUSINESS
Rifling through my filing cabinet the other day, I came across two ancient, nicotine-stained items of literature. The first was a 1971 copy of Advertising Age magazine and that splendid book From Those Wonderful People Who Gave You Pearl Harbour, by Jerry Della Femina.
Anyway, after sweeping through Mr Della Femina’s book, which I strongly recommend to anyone with both a good sense of humour and no sense of political correctness, I took a look at Advertising Age. It featured a reminiscent piece by a certain Charlie Brower, one of the giants of the American ad business and a former chairman of BBDO.
He decided, in 1928 to pursue a career in advertising; and, as he himself said when he retired, he occasionally damn nearly caught up with it. His recollections contain one or two nice anecdotes from a time when the advertising business had a soul and was manned (and womanned) by a whole race of colourful eccentrics.
He tells of the legendary George Batten who could never remember names so he called everyone Harry. G.B. was a believer in the precept that a clean desk means a clean mind. He therefore went around the office sweeping papers off everyone’s desk on to the floor, thereby leaving his people with wonderfully clean minds, but ankle-deep in assorted papers.
He tells, also, of Albert Lasker, an advertising genius and head of Lord & Thomas, which later became Foote, Cone & Belding. Albert was red-hot on the idea that his staff should buy and use their clients’ products as a matter of course; so when he saw a pack of Philip Morris on a copywriter’s desk instead of the house brand of Lucky Strike, he hit the roof and demanded to know why.
The offending wretch explained that they were his wife’s and that he had picked them up at home in error. Lasker’s reply was crushing and unanswerable. ‘Your wife, I presume,’ he said, ‘has an independent income?’
Unhappily these days, all the loonies seem to have departed the advertising industry; and it now appears to be staffed by accountants, statisticians and sales analysts. Gone are the practical jokers, the booze cupboards, the manic drinkers and the three-hour lunchbreaks. Gone, too, are the crazy, creative geniuses of the sort I worked with in London agencies during the 60s, who sold all of their office furniture to a local second-hand shop and then stood back to watch the confrontation between muscular removal men and our prissy office manager. This crew also sent a telegram to the agency’s Managing Director, who was on a business trip to Czechoslovakia at the height of the cold war. The telegram bore the cryptic message: The red raven flies tonight; and everyone was hoping that he would be swiftly arrested by a suspicious KGB. He wasn’t, but as I remember it, the expectation was delicious.
Then there was the lapsed genius of a designer who always wore a false ginger beard, complete with ear-attachments, to attend client meetings. Why? Who knows. And not to mention the Copy Chief whose office had a balcony and steps leading down into the street. On a slow day, he would invite passers-by up for a drink, which meant that his office was often jammed with an assortment of street traders, road-sweepers and bowler-hatted businessmen – all inebriated grand style.
Those were the days, as they say. Or am I simply getting old?
Patrick Quinn is a copywriter, with 40 years' experience of the advertising business in London, Miami, Dublin and Edinburgh. Over the years, he has helped win for his clients just about every advertising award worth winning. His published books, include:
The Secrets of Successful Copywriting.
The Secrets of Successful Low Budget Advertising.
Word Power 1, 2 & 3.
© Markethill Publishing 2005.
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