Monday, June 18, 2012

The flavor line in advertising.

            When I started out in advertising in Chicago, there were such titles as Executive Art Director and Copy Chief. They each reported to the Creative Director, and had their own area of expertise. Sort of.

             Our agency was trying to emulate the model of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency that changed everything. Writers and art directors were encouraged to work together on a problem, but we were small (six of each) and art directors always seemed to have more to do. As a result, we writers often had to start alone. "I'll catch up with you" was the call of the art director.

             It could be frustrating. By the time the A.D. was free, the writer had come up with a concept she was in love with, but had to humor her partner to come to the same conclusion.

             One of the brightest people in our agency was the copy chief, Carl Lyren. He joined the agency from Leo Burnett Co. and was thrilled to be at a small agency, free of any bureaucracy.

             Carl was a foodie before that word was invented, and spent a lot of time on the Wish-Bone Salad Dressing account. I loved the way his mind worked; always going for what Mr. Burnett had called "the inherent drama" in a product. Carl found that drama in the Wish-Bone "flavor line", as he called it. Where the oil and vinegar separated, and the spices collected. He was constantly trying to find new ways to tell that story of that Italian authenticity.

              I was assigned to the Jim Beam Bourbon account, but there was very little to do. The client just wanted the slogan, "The World's Finest Bourbon Since 1795" and a big bottle. Carl had me experimenting with new ways to tell that story, but after a few months, turned me loose on Healthknit underwear, Corina Cigars, Carling beer, and other accounts. I was a happy camper.

           Carl quit and moved to New York. He had received a big offer from Grey Advertising, and wanted to prove himself of Madison Avenue. He did very well and then suddenly quit there to write a cookbook. It was called "French Cooking for the American Table" and Carl wrote it with Rene Verdun, the famous White House chef.

            After the book, Carl became a sought-after freelance writer, and when I had a chance I was able to hire him on Bank One, in Chicago. Carl was terrific, but commuting to Chicago became too hard. I haven't seen him since.

           I'm grateful to Carl for the opportunities he gave me and all he taught me. We all need someone to show us the flavor line between good advertising and great.

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