Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Memories of a Mad Man

The last couple of days I've been in an interesting email dialogue with my old bosses from the Martin Agency, Jerry Torchia and Mike Hughes. We've been talking about the recent episode of This American Life where legendary copywriter Julian Koenig complains about George Lois stealing all his best ideas.

If you're fascinated with that era of advertising (I am!), you'll probably enjoy the episode. I found it funny and sad and thought-provoking about the nature of our business.

You might also enjoy the most recent addition to the email chain from another mentor of mine, legendary Ad Man Harry Jacobs:

The discussion about the Koenig/Lois video is interesting. I’m happy to say it’s just another piece of fascination with the '60s and '70s. The Bauhaus lives on.

I joined my first agency in 1952, not knowing a lot about how to make ads. But a year or so later, I began to see the work of George Lois appearing in Art Direction magazine. I was taken by it. He was my first great influence. Then there was Lou Dorfsman and Herb Lubalin. All three of them set the stage for my future. So I’m very grateful for the part those three played in my career. Dorfsman and Lubalin became good friends. Lois snubbed me once during my first visit to the Art Directors Show, but I still think he was a brilliant designer and art director.

The '60s will probably go down as the greatest era of advertising. And it deserves that honor. Think of all the books that have been written about it: Bill Bernbach’s book, Helmut Krone’s, Lois has done three himself (naturally), Dorfsman/CBS, Lubalin, the Book of Gossage, Richard Gilbert’s Marching Up Madison Avenue, and more. Even Gargano is coming out with a new one. And if all this isn’t enough, there’s that corny sex show on TV, “Mad Men.” I mean, it’s hard to believe the Digital Age will be covered like that.

And the debate about personalities doesn’t stop with writers and art directors. What about agencies? The debate about Ogilvy and Bernbach is still alive. Along comes Bernbach’s PR person, Doris Willens, trying to cash in on things she doesn’t know well. Who cares whether Bernbach wrote a lot of copy. What the man did was grow the most important and influential agency in the world. The place was loaded with great talent. I could probably name 20 to 40 writers and art directors out of that agency who became well known to most all of us. That’s more than Ogilvy. Other than Ogilvy himself, the only person I can think of was David McCall. David Ogilvy was a solo act. Before Doyle Dane Bernbach bought my agency (Cargill, Wilson & Acree), Bill Bernbach insisted on seeing all of our work. So I had to go to New York and present to Bernbach, one-on-one, in a conference room without anyone else there. It was a fabulous experience. Took me an hour and ten minutes. His critique and gratitude was wonderful. He became a friend after that. I had lunch and dinner on occasion. What a man, ego and all!

I’m one of those guys who’s grateful for that era. So much change, so many great people to learn from: Bob Gage (there’ll never be another like him), Amil Gargano, Ralph Ammirati, Ed McCabe, Bob Levenson, Carl Ally, Chick McKinney, George Lois, Mary Wells, Julian Koenig, Bert Steinhauser, Sam Scali, Ron Rosenfeld, just to name a few. I’m not sure any of us worked for money. We just had a great time.

Hey, how do we turn the clock back?

I'm not quite ready to turn the clock back - nothing beats now, imho - but I gotta hand to these guys. They invented something. They found a way to make commerce artful.


jj said...

This is great, Jelly. Thanks for pointing towards the episode too.

Anonymous said...

Great timing for me to come across this post - I just listened to this episode this morning! I certainly agree with many of your comments - what I have always been curious about and still have not found an answer is: who owns ideas? How can one claim that an idea or thought is their own? Is idea ownership really whats important? How do we give credit where credit is due?

I'm Jelly said...

I think 'idea ownership' is a concept that is also being shaped by the many changes happening in the world. "Patents" seem as 19th century to me as the steam engine? Scarcity-based, in way, right? "That's MY idea!" Like there aren't enough good ideas to go around, so we have to hoard them and claim them? What if there were an abundance of great ideas and we could all share them?

Just finished reading YES WE DID: An Inside Look At How Social Media Built The Obama Brand - not a great book, but the story shines through - it was clear that nobody owned the Obama brand, or rather that everyone did. They share it equally, from David Plouffe and Axelrod to the Canadian (?) girl who wrote the book, who only began volunteering in September 2008, to my 64 year old (sorry Jane) sister in Ohio - everyone identifying with the larger picture and not obsessed with claiming ownership of their individual piece.

I think it all comes from Obama himself - a 21st century leader at a level that is mind-blowing. "When the master leads, the people say, "We did it, all by ourselves."

Kelly O'Keefe said...

Jelly, Thanks for the post and for sharing Harry's comments. It does make me feel a little sorry to have missed the 60's in advertising, but having attended Cooper Union in the 70s I couldn't escape the influence of greats like Lubalin, or Bernbach. I think the greatest era for creativity is always the era you're in, because it's the only one you can work in and creativity is not a spectator sport. But I do think we have a great deal to learn for the giants like Lubalin, Bernbach, Ogilvy, Rand, Saarinen, and others whose shoulders we stand on. For many of my generation that list includes Harry Jacobs.

Spazzles said...

I loved this man. Really took me back to a place I hadn't been in for quite some time. Thanks. Miss you.

LD said...

Hey Jelly, thanks for the link and the posts. Was hoping to see the banter between you and Mike Hughes - a great man himself in this nutty world of advertising. I'm certain it was rich.

Hope you're well and give me a shout if you come to New York.

Dominik Imseng said...

You will find this interesting, Jelly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lWbLnr_Az8 Best from Zurich, Dominik