Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My first freak-out in advertising.

         When I was starting out in advertising in the "Mad Men" days, I made way too many assumptions.

          I assumed, for example, that the other creative people in the agency were much better than I, never dreaming that with hard work, experience, and a little scholarship, I could do as well or even better than they were doing.

         The thing that convinced me was working with Bradley. Bradley was "Mr. Taste",  whom everybody said was the most stylish, most evolved, most design-conscious art director in the agency. His office was carefully plastered with photos by Victor Skrebneski and Richard Avedon, and ads Bradley adored from Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

         One day our creative director asked me to meet with Bradley to do an ad for Seventeen magazine. Our client Healthknit made stockings for teenage girls, and this was to be my first full-color ad. My first fashion ad!

         Bradley invited me into his office and offered me a chair and a cigar. I took the chair and pulled out a cigarette. He said he was anxious to get started on the Healthknit job because he had an idea he always wanted to use. He set the stage: "We're selling stockings, right?" I agreed. "Well, what if we do this," he continued. "We have a close-up of a girl's skirt and legs, and instead of two legs, she has three."

        I knew I should've taken that cigar. I urged him to go on.

       "That way, we can have a different stocking on each leg. An argyle on the left, a stripe in the middle, and a solid on the right," Bradley pointed out.

       I nodded, the sheepish response of a neophyte listening to a real pro. Bradley instructed me to go back to my office and write the headline and copy. To this day I don't know what I wrote. But it must've been okay with Bradley and the client, because the next week Bradley had to go to New York to shoot the photo. Apparently there were no models with three legs in Chicago.

       When my first four-color ad came out, I was proud. For about two days. Then the evening news on TV had a story that sank my heart. Doctors just announced that an approved medication for expectant mothers was resulting in a birth defect. Kids were being born with three legs. I was mortified. What had I done! Against my better judgment, I had gone along with what turned out to look like making fun of a horrible birth defect.

       I was shaken, and I could never use a proof of that ad in my sample book, of course. I guess that's when I learned to trust my own judgement and stick to my own instincts and speak up.

       An ad can be too far out, too bizarre for Bazaar. Goofy does not mean interesting. Different does not automatically mean good.

       Stick to your own experience, your knowledge of the product and the customer, and stick up for your own values.

       Two legs at a time.

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