|In an era when media people are the stars, and highly paid ones at that, we all recognize Woodward and Bernstein, Graydon Carter and Katie Couric, Rush Limbaugh and Maureen Dowd and Tina Brown, Don Imus and Howard Stern, Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer. But which of us can name a single advertising agency head or creative director? Who came up with the Geico Gecko?|
Now New York Times ad columnist Stuart Elliott reports that the AMC cable television network is pondering a series called Mad Men, contrasting Madison Avenue's glorious past when the smartest young fellows from the best colleges and the prettiest girls in town worked for agencies. Everyone smoked cigarettes, drank martinis and dressed smartly. No one spent his lunch hour working out on treadmills. Life on Mad Ave was fast, slick, risky and exciting.
Back then, advertising was the glamour biz. Remember the Elliott brothers (not related to Stuart)? Oz Elliott ran Newsweek, brother Jock turned in his Marine uniform for a Savile Row suit and red fireman's suspenders, and went to work at a big ad shop. Guess which brother ambitious young men wanted to be? Jock, the ad man, and not Oz, the top journalist.
Nor did it hurt that agencies paid better.
I know a little about this since between college and the Marine Corps., with no reporting jobs open, I worked briefly writing ad copy for Macy's, rubbing elbows with young talents such as Bunny Wells, who would found her own agency and marry the client, Harding Lawrence of Braniff.
My advice to AMC: If you want a show about "the ad game," simply update a best-selling Frederic Wakeman novel, later a successful flick, called The Hucksters. The novel was pounding and terrific when it stuck to Mad Ave, but was soap opera-ish otherwise, and, quite frankly, the movie was a lot better. But then, consider the cast: Clark Gable as "Vic Norman," a postwar, out-of-work radio guy who spends 35 of his last 50 bucks buying a "sincere," hand-painted tie to help him nail a top job at a big agency; Ava Gardner as the lounge singer whose commercials thrill the client; Adolphe Menjou as the smoothly insecure agency chief; and most memorably, Sidney Greenstreet as "Evan Evans," the grotesque "Beautee Soap" client.
Early in the book (delicately bowdlerized in the film), Evans, in a plantation hat and bandanna, gets everyone’s attention in the board room by spitting a gob of phlegm onto the polished mahogany table.
"Mr. Norman, you have just seen me do a disgusting thing. But you'll always remember what I did. Mr. Norman, if nobody remembers your brand, you ain't gonna sell any soap."
All the flunkies, including Vic's boss, say, "Check."
But Norman doesn't. And we know instantly he's got guts and a soul. Before this wonderful scene is over Greenstreet has overturned a carafe of iced water onto several laps to demonstrate that a certain ad approach is, "all wet." And when the quick-thinking Gable character produces a demo recording of a new commercial, and Evan Evans likes it, the client pulls out his bridgework and waves it under Vic Norman's nose in congratulatory glee, "I can see you've already got your teeth in our problem!"
Not that there aren't creative minds like that still working the Mad Ave beat.
I probably should consult first with Bob Garfield, the brilliant and devastatingly caustic ad critic for Advertising Age, but there seems to me something gloriously perverse and creatively inspired about the OgilvyOne Worldwide campaign for TD Ameritrade (nasdaq: AMTD - news - people ), aimed at potential clients with dough to invest.
For a campaign that calls for probity and trust, they've retained as their spokesman a superb actor whose on-screen character drinks too much, hates his father, is constantly in trouble with the bar association, and who is a serial seducer of the lovely young assistant D.A.s producer Dick Wolf thoughtfully serves up for his delectation.
Meet "Jack McCoy," of Law & Order, as portrayed by Sam Waterston, a Broadway presence and an Oscar-nominated movie star so convincing, that despite having graduated from Groton and Yale, proves that an actor, if sufficiently talented, truly can overcome the handicaps of a decent education.
If you were running a big Madison Avenue ad agency such as OgilvyOne Worldwide in New York, assigned to create a major new television campaign for a distinguished brokerage house, would you hire as spokesperson an actor whose lawyer character on TV hates his father, drinks too much, is in and out of trouble with the ethics committee of the bar, and carries on serial love affairs with his comely young assistants?
That's just what OgilvyOne has done in retaining Law & Order's assistant D.A. "Jack McCoy" to peddle its wares.