Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The way advertising should be

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I do a lot of kvetching about advertising. The business is filled with so much nonsense, so much stupidity, and so many incompetent clueless people, that for an angry writer like myself, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

And I'm talking about flat fish like halibut or flounder, that swim on their sides, so it's even harder to miss.

But today I'd like to tell a story of a different kind.

In 1994, after an incredibly frustrating year at BBDO, I was hired to work at Team One Advertising. A creative hot shop at the time, teeming with a staff of talented Writers and Art Directors, many of whom have gone on to become the Grand Creative Puba at places like Chiat, Dailey, RPA, McCann Erikson and such.

I had just settled into my new office, notice I didn't say cubicle, this was a time when management respected the creative process and doled out offices, with real doors and windows. The Creative Director called and said one of the writers was going on vacation, back to Wisconsin for a week. He asked if I would fill in for him and work with the art director on a new beer account, Castlemaine XXXX, an Australian brew with new distribution in the US.

Naturally, I said yes. Because the boss had asked me to. Not because I had snaked the assignment away from anybody. Which has been known to happen.

The XXXX people wanted to position their brew as the authentic beer of the Australian Outback. And they wanted to use outdoor boards, my favorite media. So the art director and I cranked up the headline machine and started spitting out funny lines.

It wasn't difficult at all. And within three days, we had enough material to cover a wall.

Here's where it gets interesting.

By Wednesday the Creative Director had seen all the work and culled it in half.
By Thursday we had a meeting with three of the top clients. No planner intervention. No junior clients. No focus groups. No hierarchy of any kind.
By Friday, we had approval on the campaign. Not a qualified approval. Not a pending approval. Not a let-me-show-this-to-my-wife-and-make-sure-she's-good-with-it approval.

I'm talking about a signed estimate, cash on the table, let's do this approval.

By the following Monday, the day the vacationing writer returned to the agency, mechanicals were already being made.

A year later, the art director and I were at Lincoln Center in NY accepting a couple of One Show Silver Pencils for the campaign that went from start to finish in less than a week. If memory serves, we smoked fancy cigars and bought a bottle of champagne one only buys when spending someone else's money. Thank you Saatchi & Saatchi shareholders.

Even as I write this I can't believe the surprising turn of events and the uncomplicated way the planets fell into alignment. Mostly because in the 18 years since, and the countless tales I've heard from other creatives, it's never happened that way ever again.


Jeff said...

What is this strange, mystical place and time where work is approved and bought in a week, and planners don't exist? Rich, Rich,'re letting your finely honed imagination run away with you again. It's like saying gas used to be $2.25 a gallon. Stop it, you're killin' me.

Anonymous said...

Ken, any chance we can see the rest of this campaign?

Rich Siegel said...

Ken? Who is Ken?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant Rich, not Ken. For some reason, when typing my comment, I was thinking of Ken Levine. Don't know why. I certainly meant no disrespect. I was just hoping to see some more samples from the campaign.

Rich Siegel said...

No problem anonymous reader mistaking this smart ass Jew for another. You can click the link on the right sight of the blog (towards the bottom) and see my entire portfolio, including some additional XXXX work.

My favorite component of the campaign is not there however. We printed Castlemaine XXXX coasters. One on side it read: What we do in Aussie Outback for entertainment. Turn over.

On the other side, it said the exact same thing.

Shawn Couzens said...


I just came across your blog. Great story.

I remember when one of my clients was that way. There were no layers on the agency or client side. Just the creative team, the brand manager, and an AE to work out the details. We'd get an assignment on Monday, present concepts on Thursday and start production on Friday. The biggest problem? We were always on a shoe-string budget (we'd do 10-12 TV spots a year for $600,000 total). But being creative problem solvers, we developed a production process that allowed us to write and produce work quickly and cheaply (3-4 weeks for TV, from concept to broadcast). The campaign won dozens of awards, too.

Then management changed hands. :-(