Friday, August 26, 2011

When the old guard let its guard down.

       In the "Mad Men" days of advertising, there was a silent war going on. Well, not really silent. It was more of a grumbling war.

       The old guard, mostly men toughened by in-fighting, politicking, and long lunches, went by the "rules" of advertising: headlines that name the product and the benefit; copy that explains the features and gives the "reason why"; and a tagline, or slogan, that gives the conclusion you want consumers to reach. According to the old guard, art directors were there to "lay out" the ad, making it attractive.

       That's when I came in, along with other upstarts who read the New Yorker to learn how to write, saw the new kind of ads coming out of the Big Apple, and wanted to join in and do better.

       I remember when my friend Marv was brought into the agency from a greeting card factory. The creative director said, "Fred has been here for years. He's got a big office and I'm putting you in with him for help."  Four months later, Marv went in to talk to the creative director. "Remember four months ago you put me into Fred's office for help? Well, I've given him all the help I can." Marv got his own office, I got promoted, and we were on our way.

       It was just in time. I was tired of account executives telling creative people, "There are no dull products, just dull writers". Tired of being told by art directors, "Just leave it on the corner of my drawing board and I'll do something with it later."

       When I was first made a copy supervisor, the art supervisor was an older guy named Toby. He was a lot of fun, and always had an agency story to disarm my ambition and high spirits. He had been in World War II, and then lived in his car while attending Art Center in Los Angeles on the G.I. Bill. He never wanted to just sit down together with a writer and make an ad --- a new way of working that was making its way west from the Creative Revolution in New York. Every time I'd say, "Toby, we've got a new assignment", he'd simply reach into a pile on his desk and say something like, " I want to use this great illustration of a chicken! Write a headline for it."

       We had only one woman art director in the department in those days. She was always busy on projects that called for the woman's touch. Whatever that meant.  Everyone wanted to work with Barbara, so suddenly every project needed the woman's touch.

        The old guard slowly crumbled. Their lunch hours started to get longer and longer. The list of requirements for creative assignments got shorter and shorter. They started saying things like "do whatever you think", and then retired to talk about the good old days.

        Then again, isn't that what I'm talking about?


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